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Defending Shoghi Effendi

Posted by Sen on November 22, 2009

Shoghi_Effendi_stands This posting begins by discussing a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, which refers to “the Bahai theocracy” as a divinely ordained system, and goes on from there to address the claims that there is ‘a theocratic undercurrent’ in Shoghi Effendi’s writings, or that he contradicted himself, changed his mind or concealed his real views for reasons of prudence. In addition to the few places where Shoghi Effendi speaks directly on the topic, we can look at the Bahai writings he translated, to see what teachings he thought were central and important for the English-speaking Bahais to understand.

The posting continues by looking at the future renaming of the Assemblies as Houses of Justice, and what Shoghi Effendi says about the role of the Universal House of Justice in the Bahai Commonwealth and in a future superstate, which leads to some considerations regarding the role of an established religion, or state religion, in a society. Another section looks at a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which says that, one day, “the Bahais will be called upon to assume the reins of government,” and at another letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi that speaks of the International Tribunal and Court of Arbitration being merged in the Universal House of Justice.

The anti-Bahai polemicist William Miller, and some pilgrims’ notes recording words that Shoghi Effendi is supposed to have spoken, are further sources of the idea that Shoghi Effendi was inconsistent or even favoured a theocratic system of government.

Finally, I have translated a section of one of Shoghi Effendi’s Persian letters, since it not only refers to “the worldly sovereignty … of the Bahai institutions” but also gives details of the stages of development that Shoghi Effendi anticipated the Bahai Faith passing through, from obscurity to the final flowering of the Bahai Commonwealth. When we’ve cleared away misunderstandings such as these, the World Order of Baha’u’llah looks quite simple, and sensible.

“the Bahai theocracy…”

A comment on this blog asked about a section from a 1949 letter written on behalf of the Guardian:

…. The Baha’i theocracy, on the contrary, is both divinely ordained as a system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet Himself… (Directives from the Guardian 78-9)

Shoghi Effendi uses the word theocracy, but he does not advocate theocratic government for society. In fact, he argues for and expects to see “the formal and complete separation of Church from State.” [see Note 1] The most that can be said is that there are some sections in his writings which, taken out of context, can be used to support a theocratic reading. The letter referring to ‘the Bahai theocracy’ is an example. The Guardian’s secretary says:

What the Guardian was referring to was the Theocratic systems, such as the Catholic Church and the Caliphate, which are not divinely given as systems, but man-made and yet, having partly derived from the teachings of Christ and Muhammad are, in a sense, theocracies. The Baha’i theocracy, on the contrary, is both divinely ordained as a system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet Himself… Theophany is used in the sense of Dispensation…” Directives from the Guardian 78-9, letter dated 1949

It is evident that the secretary is replying to a question, and is explaining a reference in an earlier text by Shoghi Effendi himself. To understand the answer, we need to locate the text being discussed. We can also see that the definition of ‘true theocracy’ here is ‘a system derived from the teachings of a prophet,’ while the Catholic church and the Caliphate are only ‘in a sense’ theocracies thanks to the elements of Christian and Islamic teachings they embody. It is not stated that theocracy is a system of governing a country. While both the Catholic Church and the Caliphate have at times exercised the power of civil government, this was not the case when Shoghi Effendi was writing. The last of the several caliphates that might be referred to here is the caliphate claimed in the late Ottoman empire by the Sultan, according to which he would be the spiritual leader – not ruler – of the world’s Muslims. On the several occasions when Shoghi Effendi refers to the end of the Caliphate in his writings, he is referring to this spiritual caliphate. Its abolition, two years after the abolition of the Sultanate, was a renunciation of the idea of a pan-Islamic union that the Sultans had fostered. So it is clear that the theocracies, including the Bahai theocracy, that the Guardian’s secretary is referring to here are systems of leading and guiding a religious community, they are not systems of government.

If we try to locate the earlier passage from Shoghi Effendi that the secretary is explaining, two possibilities present themselves. The earlier is in his 1934 letter, ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah,’ a letter that is entirely devoted to explaining the principles underlying the Bahai Administrative Order, and in particular the relationship between the hereditary guardianship and the elected Houses of Justice. He says:

The Baha’i Commonwealth of the future, of which this vast Administrative Order is the sole framework, is… not only unique in the entire history of political institutions, but can find no parallel in the annals of any of the world’s recognized religious systems. No form of democratic government; no system of autocracy or of dictatorship, whether monarchical or republican; no intermediary scheme of a purely aristocratic order; nor even any of the recognized types of theocracy, whether it be the Hebrew Commonwealth, or the various Christian ecclesiastical organizations, or the Imamate or the Caliphate in Islam — none of these can be identified or be said to conform with the Administrative Order … (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 152)

The letter continues in this vein for some time (and is well worth reading). It compares and contrasts the Bahai Administrative Order to democracy, autocracy, ecclesiastical government (with the examples of the Papacy and the Imamate), and aristocratic and hereditary government. It is not describing a system of governing a country or a world, but the system of “the Baha’i Commonwealth,” a commonwealth in the sense Gibbon refers to the Christian commonwealth, operating and growing within the pagan Roman Empire, and having control of its own “temporal affairs,” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 15 section V. The passage refers to the Bahai Commonwealth and ‘The Administrative Order’ and cannot be made to apply to the institutions of the world political order in the commonwealth of nations envisioned by Baha’u’llah and explained by Shoghi Effendi in ‘The Unfoldment of World Civilization’:

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Baha’u’llah, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise … (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203)

It’s obvious from the last two quotations that the terms in which Shoghi Effendi describes the Administrative Order (as a theocracy, among other things) are quite different to the terms and institutions he uses in describing the commonwealth of nations. (for more on this, see ‘Two Commonwealths‘ on this blog.)

The second passage that the secretary may have been asked to explain is in Shoghi Effendi’s review of the first century of the Babi and Bahai history, God Passes By (1944). This echoes his earlier statement, more briefly:

The Administrative Order … is … unique in the annals of the world’s religious systems. … Nor is the principle governing its operation similar to that which underlies any system, whether theocratic or otherwise, which the minds of men have devised for the government of human institutions. Neither in theory nor in practice can the Administrative Order of the Faith of Baha’u’llah be said to conform to any type of democratic government, to any system of autocracy, to any purely aristocratic order, or to any of the various theocracies, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic which mankind has witnessed in the past. (God Passes By 326-327)

These are the only two instances in which Shoghi Effendi uses the word theocracy in connection with the Bahai Faith, and both refer to its internal organisation as a religious community, not to its theories about the organisation of the state. If the question was about one of these passages, the answer must be taken also to apply only to the Bahai Administrative Order, and not to the Bahai teachings concerning the civil government of countries and of the commonwealth of nations.

This Administrative Order can not be transformed later into a government because the Shoghi Effendi had written, just two years earlier, in words that deserve to be repeated, recited and indelibly memorised, that the Bahais must never “allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.” (World Order of Baha’u’llah 66). This continued to be his position throughout his life. A letter written on his behalf on 30 October 1951 states that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i community…” (Messages to Canada 23 (page 151 in the 1998 edition).

It is hardly surprising that the Administrative Order is described as a theocracy. It is after all the internal order governing a religious community. If theocracy is defined as rule by the institutions of the religious order, any self-governing religious order is by definition theocratic. The Methodists and Quakers are internally theocratic in this sense, since they hope and have faith that the church, as part of the body of Christ, will be guided (through its elected system) by God. This is not the same as ‘theocracy’ in the political sense, which is the kind of government that was attempted in Iran after 1979, a government in which the persons and institutions of the religious order either control or replace the organs of the civil government. In this, which is the usual sense of ‘theocracy,’ the Bahai teachings are decidedly anti-theocratic, since they forbid and condemn this usurpation of the power that God has granted to the Kings and Rulers.

Shoghi Effendi, a theocratic undercurrent?

Despite the absence of any mention of government responsibilities in the passages in which Shoghi Effendi outlines the duties of the Assemblies, some have suggested that “a theocratic undercurrent definitely exists in [Shoghi Effendi’s] writings,” that Shoghi Effendi had ‘loosely theocratic’ views, that the Bahai Writings contain “some contradictions” on this question, that he might have changed his mind in the course of his ministry, or even that Shoghi Effendi actually rejected the separation of Church and State as a basic principle of the World Order Baha’u’llah founded, but did not commit this to writing because it would have been imprudent. The last of these is irrefutable, because it contains within itself a reason why there can be no evidence to support it.

There is no solid evidence to support the idea of a theocratic undercurrent in Shoghi Effendi’s writings, and everything we know about Shoghi Effendi tells us that he was not inconsistent or careless.

It is perhaps redundant to say that theocratic rule has never been an official Bahai teaching (see the compilation on Church and State under the ‘compilations’ tag above), but there have always been some Bahais, at least in the American community, who have believed in it, so, in every generation, Bahais have argued about the issue and sought justifications for their views in the Bahai Writings, and in recent decades they have looked particularly to Shoghi Effendi’s writings. However theocratic ideas became current among Bahais long before the time of Shoghi Effendi. His statements cited above are part of his attempt to stem a tradition of theocratic thought which had begun around 1900, principally in the American Bahai community, at first because converts brought in their baggage Christian expectations of the theocratic rule of Christ and the saints, in the end times, and because Kheiralla taught theocratic ideas. These admixtures of Christian themes were reinforced, in two footnotes in the early editions of Some Answered Questions, by the equation of the House of Justice with the Universal Tribunal, were confirmed by the publication of books and articles in which Bahai authors assumed an ultimately theocratic design or innocently used the word ‘theocracy’ to refer to a godly society, were then embodied with some inconsistencies in some pilgrim’s notes, and compounded by the interpolation of theocratic ideas into at least two reports of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks, in Paris Talks [PDF here] and in The Promulgation of Universal Peace.

Shoghi Effendi’s direct statements that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body” and that the Bahais must never “allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries,” should be read in this context: he is arguing against views then widely current among his Bahai readers, and refuting critics of the Bahai Faith such as Samuel Wilson in Bahaism and its Claims (1915).

In addition to the few passages in which Shoghi Effendi says in his own words that the Bahai Administration is not, and must not be allowed to become, a government, we can see his views through the window of his translations and explication of the words of Baha’u’llah. In 1935, Shoghi Effendi included translations of some of Baha’u’llah’s clearest endorsements of the legitimacy of temporal government, and his own disinterest in it, in Gleanings:

CII. Give a hearing ear, O people, to that which I, in truth, say unto you. The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath ever regarded, and will continue to regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession. All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth. From the beginning that hath no beginning the ensign proclaiming the words “He doeth whatsoever He willeth” hath been unfurled in all its splendor before His Manifestation. What mankind needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority, and a faithful adherence to the cord of wisdom. The instruments which are essential to the immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race have been entrusted to the hands, and lie in the grasp, of the governors of human society. This is the wish of God and His decree….
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, 206-7)

CXV. The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings. To none is given the right to act in any manner that would run counter to the considered views of them who are in authority. That which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts; and of these the loved ones of Him Who is the Sovereign Truth are, in this Day, as the keys. (Gleanings 241)

CXXVIII. Dispute not with any one concerning the things of this world and its affairs, for God hath abandoned them to such as have set their affection upon them. Out of the whole world He hath chosen for Himself the hearts of men–hearts which the hosts of revelation and of utterance can subdue. (Gleanings 279)

CXXXIX: “..your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His own power, by virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them. He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world’s dominion.” (Gleanings 304)

Other examples are found in sections LIV, LVI, CV, CX, CXII, CXIV, CXVII CXVIII, and CXIX of Gleanings. There is no doubt from this, that Shoghi Effendi thoroughly understood Baha’u’llah’s political thought and wished the Bahais in the West to understand it as well.

Moreover, in The Promised Day is Come from page 70 onwards, Shoghi Effendi made his own compilation to refute the idea that Bahais “advocate or anticipate the definite extinction of the institution of kingship.” Shoghi Effendi is not talking about monarchy as a particular form of government, but about ‘kingship’ as a symbol for civil government in any form. He precedes his compilation with a quotation from Baha’u’llah: “One of the signs of the maturity of the world is that no one will accept to bear the weight of kingship. Kingship will remain with none willing to bear alone its weight.” When ‘kingship’ is borne collectively, it is constitutional rule in some form. Moreover the first selection in Shoghi Effendi’s compilation on the topic is from Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, in which Baha’u’llah says:

“Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones. He Who is the Spirit [Jesus] — may peace be upon Him — was asked: ‘O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’ And He made reply: ‘Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

Caesar is not a King, in the literal sense, since the position was not hereditary: rather ‘Caesar’ and ‘kingship’ are being used as metonyms for worldly government, which includes monarchs and sovereigns, but also other forms of worldly government.

Finally one can point to Shoghi Effendi’s translations of the Iqan in 1931, and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf in 1941. The second part of the Iqan is devoted to the theme of the two sovereignties, spiritual and temporal, while the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf includes the reference to Caesar cited above.

So the ideas that Shoghi Effendi changed the Bahai teachings to incorporate a theocratic rule by the Houses of Justice, that he harboured loosely theocratic notions in private, or changed his mind on the issue in the course of his life, are untenable. Taking his own statements and his translation and exposition together, we see that he was trying throughout his life to educate the Western Bahais, in opposition to a variety of theocratic notions that were held by some in the Bahai community.

The world’s future superstate

One of the passages that has been cited as evidence that Shoghi Effendi harboured theocratic ambitions is in the first of Shoghi Effendi’s World Order letters, written in February 1929 and published in The World Order of Baha’u’llah pages 6-7. The background to this is a book published in 1929 by Ruth White, Is the Bahai Organization the Enemy of the Bahai Religion?. As you can tell from the title, Ruth White was in conflict with the Bahai Administration and with Shoghi Effendi. She had among things claimed that the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha was forged (see Mitchell’s mistake). White’s view, which was marginal or even unique to her, was that the elected Spiritual Assemblies were for mission purposes and had no authority to govern the Bahai community, while the Houses of Justice were an entirely different institution of worldly government. The distinction hinged on the two different names used for the institution. In response, Shoghi Effendi wrote:

That the Spiritual Assemblies of today will be replaced in time by the Houses of Justice, and are to all intents and purposes identical and not separate bodies, is abundantly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself. … For reasons which are not difficult to discover, it has been found advisable to bestow upon the elected representatives of Baha’i communities throughout the world the temporary appellation of Spiritual Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the Baha’i Faith are better understood and more fully recognized, will gradually be superseded by the permanent and more appropriate designation of House of Justice. (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 6)

For Shoghi Effendi, the two institutions are ‘to all intents and purposes identical,’ and the name will be changed back to House of Justice when the Bahai Faith is better understood – not when there is some change in the institution itself!

The reasons for the temporary change of name are “not difficult to discover.” The change was made in a letter from Abdu’l-Baha to one of the local spiritual assemblies in America, which had been published at the beginning of Volume 1 of Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha (3rd edition in 1919) and would have been very familiar to the members of the National Spiritual Assembly to whom this latter was addressed. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.

Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia. (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, 5)

After pointing to Abdu’l-Baha’s tablet changing the name of the House of Justice so that its non-political character would be clearer, and having demonstrated that the House of Justice and the Spiritual Assembly are one and the same thing, Shoghi Effendi looks towards the future, to demonstrate (against Ruth White’s claims) that the Bahai Faith can and would be organised:

Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled differently in future, but they will be enabled also to add to their present functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives necessitated by the recognition of the Faith of Baha’u’llah … as the State Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power. And as the Baha’i Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise as the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth all the rights, the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future superstate. [The World Order of Baha’u’llah 6: punctuation has been altered to match Shoghi Effendi’s manuscript (Bahai National Archives, Wilmette)]

The original tablet of Abdu’l-Baha concerning the name of the institution, to which Shoghi Effendi points, provides a framework within which we can understand what powers, duties, prerogatives and responsibilities Shoghi Effendi does envision the House of Justice exercising. He says that the Bahai Faith will be recognized as “the State Religion” of at least one country, and there are similar references in The Advent of Divine Justice page 14 and in God Passes By, Chapter 24. So we need to be clear that the establishment of religion does not mean theocratic government, or even non-separation.

Establishment is a constitutional agreement between the state and one or more religious organizations to place the relationship between them on a long-term footing, and thus beyond the vagaries of day-to- day politics. Establishment is only possible if the church and the state are two separate and distinct institutions, so that they can recognize and affirm one-another. Establishment does not necessarily mean a greater political role for religion, and the disestablishment of religion does not mean that religion is confined to the private sphere. Religion plays a more visibly intrusive role in American politics today than it does in either England or Denmark, both of which have established churches. While establishment may privilege one religious group over others, it does not necessarily do so: England and Denmark do not discriminate between citizens on the basis of religion. Nor is establishment necessarily limited to a single church or religion. The Belgian state, for example, has such a relationship with six religious organisations, including state funding for church and mosque personnel. In a pluralist society the state could invite several religious communities to provide representatives for a consultative body such as the House of Lords, or for regular forums with the leaders of the political parties.

Finally, establishment does not in itself say anything about the religious quality of the state: the state may regard religious institutions in a purely pragmatic fashion as a means of inculcating desirable ethics and providing necessary social services, or the state may constitutionally commit itself to follow religious teachings. Shoghi Effendi presents these as successive stages in the relationship, when he refers to “the stage of establishment” being followed by “the emergence of the Baha’i state itself.” (Messages to the Baha’i World 155). In Roman history too, we can see a considerable gap between the establishment of Christianity and the Christianization of the Roman state, and also that the latter is not achieved once-for-all.

Having set aside what establishment does not mean, or does not necessarily mean, we are left with a minimal definition. The establishment of religion requires only that there be a constitutional understanding between a state and one or more religious institutions: it is a contract between government and religion as partners.

In the first sentence of the passage we are considering, the Bahai Faith attains the stage of becoming “the State Religion” in a country and as a result adds additional “powers, duties, and prerogatives.” What those might be depends on the terms of the establishment and the nature of the government. They could include the power of solemnizing marriages and divorces, the duties of burying unclaimed bodies of no known religious affiliation and providing chaplain’s services, in prisons and the armed forces, to those of no religious affiliation, the prerogative of having seats in the House of Lords alongside the Bishops, or reading prayers at the opening of Parliament.

The second sentence reads:

And as the Baha’i Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise as the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth all the rights, the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future superstate.

What has changed in the situation envisioned in the second sentence? The Faith has become more widely accepted and the Universal House of Justice has come into being as the supreme institution of a Bahai Commonwealth. Note that it is not the supreme institution of the state, or of the super-state. The process of recognition and establishment has occurred in a number of the Sovereign States of the world, and it will then be incumbent on the world’s future super-state to enable the Universal House of Justice, which is the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth, to attain to certain rights, duties, and responsibilities. What rights duties and responsibilities? Isn’t the phrase here parallel to the “powers, duties, and prerogatives” of the established religion at the national level? That indicates that Shoghi Effendi expected the superstate first to recognise, and then “establish” (reach an agreement of establishment with) the Universal House of Justice.

If Shoghi Effendi was intending to say that the Bahai administrative institutions should become the governments of nations, the decisive change in the role of the Universal House of Justice would come when one National Spiritual Assembly had become the government in one nation. But what is said is that the Bahai Faith will first become the State Religion of one power and then, as more countries become Bahai States, the Universal House of Justice will come to exercise some function that the superstate is obliged to grant or recognise. One might understand this to be the role of government, but this would be incompatible with the letter of Abdu’l-Baha to which Shoghi Effendi pointed in the preceding paragraph, saying that the House of Justice does not have political or judicial functions. It would also involve an unexplained contradiction because of the different memberships and electoral methods that are set out in the Bahai scriptures for the Universal House of Justice and the institutions of world government. It seems more logical, in the light of the progressive structure of the paragraph, to suppose that Shoghi Effendi expected us to understand that it would be something analogous to the “State Religion.” But there is no term for the state religion of a super-national commonwealth.

I understand Shoghi Effendi to be saying that the Bahai Faith, with its National Houses of Justice or National Assemblies, first becomes the state religion in a number of countries and then the Universal House of Justice has rights, duties, and responsibilities in the world superstate, because it is the supreme organ of the Bahai Commonwealth. Surely these unspecified rights and responsibilities of the Universal House of Justice must be analogous to those of an established religion in a nation.

This is consistent with Shoghi Effendi’s later statement, in 1931, that the Bahais should “be on their guard lest the impression be given to the outside world that the Baha’is are political in their aims and pursuits or interfere in matters that pertain to the political activities of their respective governments.” [note 2]. A year later, in the letter `The Golden Age of the Cause of Baha’u’llah,’ Shoghi Effendi writes:

“Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.”

This is very strong: the “much less” construction seems to mean that allowing the Bahai administrative institutions to supersede national governments would be worse than a violation of the national constitution (as indeed it would, for it would violate God’s law as well). It certainly rules out the suggestion that, while the Bahai institutions might not be politically ambitious and are not seditious, they could accept temporal power if it were freely offered to them. As Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

Should they place in the arena the crown of the government of the whole world, and invite each one of us to accept it, undoubtedly we shall not condescend, and shall refuse to accept it. (Tablets of the Divine Plan 51)

One more comment is in place, regarding the Guardian’s words: “”Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution,…” Some have supposed that ‘while’ here indicates a temporary condition, allowing for the possibility that the Bahais, once they have perfected their administration, will violate the provisions of their country’s constitution, or worse. This reading is due simply to a lack of familiarity with English grammar. ‘While’ can be used to link two thing in either a temporal or a logical opposition. For example, ‘While I understand your point, I cannot agree,’ does not mean that when I cease to understand, I will agree.

The reins of government

A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in 1939 says:

“The Bahais will be called upon to assume the reins of government when they will come to constitute the majority of the population in a given country, and even then their participation in political affairs is bound to be limited in scope unless they obtain a similar majority in some other countries as well.”
(Cited in UHJ letter 27 April 1995, ‘Separation of Church and State’)

This does not say that the Houses of Justice will assume the reins of government, or become any part of the government apparatus: the meaning is that (in a democracy) Bahais as individual citizens will assume the reins of government, when they constitute a majority. The two basic principles are set out in tablets of Abdu’l-Baha. The first is addressed to what we now call a Spiritual Assembly:

The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.

Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia
(Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 5)

So a House of Justice is not a court, not connected with political affairs, not even interfering with governmental affairs. “its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs.” That tells us the role of Bahai institutions. The second tablet says:

Thou hast asked regarding the political affairs. In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible. My object in telling the believers that they should not interfere in the affairs of government is this: That they should not make any trouble and that they should not move against the opinion of the government, but obedience to the laws and the administration of the commonwealth is necessary. Now, as the government of America is a republican form of government, it is necessary that all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic.
(Letter to Thornton Chase, Tablets of Abdúl-Baha Abbas, 342-43)

So we have two principles: (1) that the Houses of Justice or Spiritual Assemblies are not connected with political affairs, and (2) that, in a democratic system, their citizenship in the commonwealth requires Bahais to “take part in the affairs of the republic.” But there is a particular exception to the second of these: at present, individual Bahais’ participation in politics is limited, for the protection of the Bahais in some countries and so as not to give the wrong impression of the Faith. Shoghi Effendi explained this policy in his Naw Ruz message of 1932:

I feel it, therefore, incumbent upon me to stress, now that the time is ripe, the importance of an instruction … which involves the non-participation by the adherents of the Faith of Baha’u’llah, whether in their individual capacities or collectively as local or national Assemblies, in any form of activity that might be interpreted, either directly or indirectly, as an interference in the political affairs of any particular government. … Let them refrain from associating themselves …. with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions. (Published in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 63)

These limitations can be lifted to some extent when the Faith is less vulnerable, not just in one country but in a number of countries. At that point, if the Bahais continued to refuse to participate in the political process in democracies, they would be undermining the system of government.

The right, indeed the duty, of individual Bahais to participate in politics does not rest only on a single letter from Abdu’l-Baha. In the Aqdas, Baha’u’llah looks forward to “the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My kingdom, who will detach himself from all else but Me! … All must glorify his name, must reverence his station …, and Shoghi Effendi confirms that the king concerned will not merely aid, but will himself will profess, the Faith (Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, 52). A Bahai ‘King’ (ruler) is obviously a Bahai participating in politics. While he was in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha praised Persian Bahais who held high posts in government and acquitted themselves well. I’ll quote just a few words: I have put a full translation (alongside two pilgrim’s note versions from Star of the West and Paris Talks) in appendix 3 of Church and State and as a pdf on my web site.

Abdu’l-Baha says:

… if government officials are religious, naturally that is better, for they are the manifestations of the fear of God. My intent with these words is not that religion should have any business in politics. Religion has absolutely no jurisdiction or involvement in politics. For religion is related to spirits and the conscience while politics is related to the body. Therefore the leaders of religions should not be involved in political matters, but should devote themselves to rectifying the morals of the people. They admonish and excite the desire and appetite for piety. They sustain the morals of the community, they impart spiritual understandings to the souls, and teach the [religious] sciences, but never get involved in political matters. Baha’u’llah commands this. In the Gospels, it is written that you should give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. The essence of the matter is this: in Iran the righteous Bahai government officials observe the utmost justice, because they fear the wrath of God and hope for the mercy of God.

So the reason that Shoghi Effendi’s secretary expected the Bahais to assume the reins of government when they are the majority (assuming they live in a democracy) is because they will be “[taking] part in the elections of officers and …. in the affairs of the republic” as Abdu’l-Baha says they should. Naturally when there come to be a large number of Bahais voting and participating in public life, they will be a large portion of the government in every sense of the term. And this participation in politics by individual Bahais, as citizens of their countries, is perfectly compatible with Abdu’l-Baha’s words about political leaders, cited above, and with the Guardian’s similar words regarding the institutions of the Bahai Administration:

“Theirs is not the purpose,… to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their countrýs constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 66)

 

Merged in the House of Justice

Another letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi says:

The Universal Court of Arbitration and the International Tribunal are the same. When the Baha’i State will be established they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice.
(17 June 1933, on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

The problem is only the words ‘merged in’ – almost any other virtual synonym such as ‘be integrated with’ would be consistent with the Writings, but ‘merge in’ is not, if we understand that as an institutional merger. Let’s suppose for the moment that ‘merging’ means that the tribunal would become redundant and the Universal House of Justice would take over its functions. Note that this would still leave the legislature and executive operating, so the differentiation of the two orders would still be there, but instead of their being complementary and equal in dignity, the Universal House of Justice would now be in a subordinate position, delivering judgements according to laws made by the legislature.

However it is difficult to imagine that merger in that sense can be meant here. Shoghi Effendi includes the supreme tribunal among the machinery of world government which is to be established “once for all” (WOB 202), and the tribunal has a direct charter in the writings of Abdu’l-Baha. If it were to be accidentally lost, we would be obliged to re-establish it. (‘We’ here being ‘the peoples and nations of the earth’ since the task is not given to the Baha’i institutions – see GPB 305).

The same objection applies to the idea one writer has proposed, that the Tribunal should eventually replace the Universal House of Justice. There is no-one, including the Universal House of Justice, with the authority to make such a change in the system designed by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. Great as the powers of the Universal House of Justice are, they do not extend to abolishing itself, because the Universal House of Justice’s own existence is explicit in the Aqdas. The same applies to the world legislature, and for that matter kings and kingship: the institutions of the Aqdas cannot be abolished.

Nor is a full institutional merger possible. In the first place, the election method for the Tribunal is set out by Abdu’l-Baha and therefore cannot be changed by the Universal House of Justice:

– The Tablet to the Hague provides for national assemblies (parliaments) to elect two or two or three electoral delegates to elect the tribunal, whereas Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi say that the International House of Justice is to be elected directly by the “Secondary House of Justice (i.e., National Spiritual Assemblies) (Bahai Administration 84)

– The Tablet to the Hague limits membership of the electoral college for the Tribunal to “persons who are … well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments”

– The Tablet to the Hague provides for proportional national representation according to population. While National Spiritual Assemblies of large countries could have more than 9 members, Abdu’l-Baha specifies that the electoral college for the Tribunal consists of only two or three delegates per country.

– The delegates for the election of the tribunal are confirmed by various other bodies who have no right to confirm the election of National Spiritual Assembly members.

– The Supreme Tribunal is to be elected out of this electoral college (remembering they are all experts in international law) whereas the members of the Universal House of Justice are not necessarily chosen from among the delegates at the international convention: every adult (male?) Baha’i is eligible.

Since the electoral methods are laid down in scripture, and the methods are so different that the electoral college for the Tribunal and the International Convention can never be the same, the institutions themselves cannot merge unless the two electoral bodies were miraculously to choose the same people, and keep choosing the same people.

In the second place, the tribunal is clearly given the task of interpreting and applying international law, which is to be made by the international legislature (another body that cannot be united with the Universal House of Justice, since its own electoral methods are again different). The idea of the Universal House of Justice applying laws created by a human government is repugnant, since it would make the Universal House of Justice subordinate.

In the third place, a merger would be contrary to the principle of the separation of the religious and worldly powers, which I have covered in this and previous postings.

In brief, it is clear that a merger between the institutions in the sense defined above is neither possible nor desirable. On the other hand, Shoghi Effendi says that the institutions of the world government, including the Tribunal, are to be sustained by “universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation” and since the Baha’i state is to function “in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy, the Mother-Book of the Baha’i Revelation” (Messages to the Baha’i World 155; see also (Advent of Divine Justice 15) it must be assumed that, having given its allegiance to the ‘common Revelation’, the world government would also be committed to function in accordance with the Aqdas. And who is to set forth and supplement the laws of the Aqdas for the world government except the Universal House of Justice?

The relationship between the Universal House of Justice and world governments is comparable to the relationship between Baha’u’llah and the kings: he did not tell the kings to give up their thrones, but he did set before them a very high standard of justice and integrity. (The Pope, in contrast, was called on to give up earthly sovereignty). When the institutions of the world government indeed make a formal commitment to function in conformity with the laws and principles of Baha’u’llah, the Universal House of Justice will clearly acquire an integral and institutionalized role in world governance.

So what to make of the words “merge in”? We know that Shoghi Effendi did not generally dictate the letters written on his behalf, and he said that if he had something important to convey he did so in his general letters to the Baha’i world. One of his secretaries warns

Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages. (Unfolding Destiny 260)

So we need not – should not – hang too much on the particular phrase “merged in” in a letter that is not only written by a secretary, but is addressed to an individual. If the apparent meaning is in conflict with the Baha’i principles in general and with Shoghi Effendi’s own words, there is good justification for reading the words in a less usual, but more consistent, manner. (See for example the secretary’s letter discussed at the end of ‘Words of Grace‘ on this blog).

There are other less crucial problems in understanding this letter. The secretary says “When the Baha’i State will be established they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice.” Shoghi Effendi uses ‘Baha’i State’ (ADJ 15; GPB 364; MBW 155) to refer to government at the national level. But the secretary seems to be using Bahai state in some other sense, perhaps meaning the commonwealth of nations, or Baha’u’llah’s World Order, or something else we cannot guess at. In the first sentence, the secretary says that “the Universal Court of Arbitration and the International Tribunal are the same” – which is correct, they are simply different translations of the same term. But in the next sentence they are to be merged. How can two things which are the same thing, merge? Presumably the meaning was either, it (the Tribunal) will be merged with the Universal House of Justice, or they (the Bahai state and the international tribunal) will be merged with the Universal House of Justice. But what the letter says is that they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice – and God knows what that means.

All we can be sure of, is that this is not like the careful and coherent formulations we see in Shoghi Effendi’s own letters, and in those he considered important. In the circumstances, that is not surprising. This letter was written on a day when Shoghi Effendi was grappling with a crisis concerning the legal title to the shrine of the Bab, which had been precipitated by the claims of Covenant-breakers that the Bahai community had no legal existence in Palestine. He was organising an international campaign to persuade the British authorities to formally recognise the Bahai community. A letter about this, written on his behalf on the same day, is published in Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, page 99. A comparison of this, and other letters written on that day on important matters, with the ‘merge’ letter, reveals a wide difference in clarity and coherence. It is hardly credible that they were all produced by the same hand and process.

Polemicists and Pilgrims

The anti-Bahai polemicist William Miller, in The Baha’i Faith: Its history and teachings, page 290, says:

In the Baha’i World 1934-1936 (p. 199) he [Shoghi Effendi] is quoted as saying: “Former faiths inspired hearts and illumined souls … The Faith of Baha’u’llah, likewise renewing man’s spiritual life, will gradually produce the institutions of an ordered society fulfilling not merely the functions of the churches of the past, but also the functions of the civil state. By this manifestation of the Divine Will in a higher degree than in former ages, humanity will emerge from that immature civilization in which church and state are separate, and partake of a true civilization in which spiritual and social principles are at last reconciled as two aspects of one and the same Truth.

This is a mischievious misquotation. The phrase “humanity will emerge from that immature civilization in which church and state are separate and competitive institutions, and partake of a true civilization in which spiritual and social principles are at last reconciled as two aspects of one and the same Truth” appears in a statement issued by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, dated October 8 1935. It is published in Bahai World vol. 7, page 246, which is available from the Internet Archive. (It is also in Bahai World volume 6 on page 200). Miller has removed the words “and competitive institutions” and then attributed the statement to Shoghi Effendi, to support his claim that the Iranian government had well justified fears of a Bahai takeover (page 291). In fact Shoghi Effendi anticipated “the formal and complete separation of Church from State” [see note 1] specifically in Iran, and eventually everywhere, because this is anticipated in Baha’u’llah’s teachings (see the passages from Gleanings quoted above). Denis MacEoin has levelled the same charge at Shoghi Effendi in two published articles, apparently in the naive supposition that William Miller’s citation is reliable.

Pilgrims

John Robarts writes in The Vision of Shoghi Effendi page 174 that “the Baha’i spiritual assemblies will be the local government and the national spiritual assemblies the national government.” He bases himself here on his own shorthand notes of remarks made to him by Shoghi Effendi in 1955, but the words flatly contradict what Shoghi Effendi had written in 1932, in the essay ‘The Golden Age of the Cause of Baha’u’llah’:

Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 66)

If Shoghi Effendi indeed said the words that Robarts attributes to him, that would be a remarkable about-face. But Robarts says that his shorthand was slow and “I missed much of what he said.” (Page 172) He claims the Guardian said that “Muhammad left no successor,” which is odd, since the Guardian wrote:

the essential prerequisites of admittance into the Baha’i fold … is [sic] the wholehearted and unqualified acceptance …. of the Prophetic functions of both Muhammad and Jesus Christ, of the legitimacy of the institution of the Imamate, and of the primacy of St. Peter … (The Promised Day is Come, 110)

How could the institution of the Imamate be valid, if Muhammad had left no successor? Surely it is easier to believe that Robarts misunderstood much of what he heard, than that Shoghi Effendi said such things.

Bernard Leach visited Haifa in the previous year, and wrote in a letter:

Here Shoghi Effendi is quietly and persistently laying the foundation of the future, “Most Great Peace”, the inspired Theocracy of the unity and maturity of mankind. He constantly at supper time laid emphasis upon the Administrative Order. He said clearly that the Lesser Peace (prophesied for 1963) would be a political peace instituted by the nations following upon the inevitable and necessary disaster approaching us.

We have seen that Shoghi Effendi does use the term ‘theocracy’ to refer to the internal order of the Bahai community, so this is not improbable. But that Shoghi Effendi would have predicted the Lesser Peace coming in 1963 is not. Nowhere in Shoghi Effendi’s authentic writings do we find dated predictions, and a letter written on his behalf says “There is no statement in the teachings indicating that the Lesser Peace will definitely be established by 1957 or 1963.” (Directives from the Guardian, 69)

Isobel Sabri, who was in Haifa with the Guardian in 1957 records him saying, “The primary function of the Guardian is interpretation, of the Hands protection and propagation, of the Assemblies government.” This is plausible, if the meaning is that the function of the Assemblies is church government. It is not plausible that Shoghi Effendi would have said in private that Assemblies were to be governments when a letter written on his behalf in 1951 states that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i community…” (Messages to Canada 23 (page 145 in the 1998 edition).

Shoghi Effendi’s Persian writings

In several places in his Persian letters, Shoghi Effendi refers to the sovereignty of the Cause of God or the Law of God, and in one place to the sovereignty of Bahai institutions. This section of a letter he wrote in April 1953 gives comfort to the Iranian Bahais during a time of repression, and also throws light on the stages of obscurity, repression, emancipation and recognition, leading to the establishment of the Bahai state and ultimately to the plenitude of the Bahai Commonwealth, which Shoghi Effendi described in a parallel passage in English in May 1953 (Messages to the Baha’i World 1950-57, 155). I have therefore translated it all:

O my friends, you who have offered your lives unstintingly! Be confidently assured that the divine decree is continually and progressively becoming more discernible, in the effects of the momentous events that lie ahead, in the resplendent victories whose first signs are now appearing in the Bahai community, and in the fresh infusions of God’s infallible assistance and the revolutionary changes in the world. In the coming epochs of the formative age, which is the second age in the Bahai dispensation, and in the golden age, which is the third and last age of this first dispensation in this holy cycle, God’s great Cause will pass through the remaining stages in all of the countries and regions that have been illumined by its brilliant lights in this luminous century. The divine promises that have been laid in store in the treasuries of cherished scriptures will all be fulfilled.

The period of obscurity is the first stage in the development of the Bahai community. The second stage is the stage of oppression and repression: the Faith of Baha’u’llah is at present passing through this stage in Iran. Both stages will be completed, and the third stage, which is the stage at which the Dispensation of God is emancipated from the abrogated religions, will be attained. This differentiation itself will precede the hoisting of the standard of the independence of the Faith of God and the establishment and acknowledgement of the rights wrongfully taken from the People of Baha, and their equality with the followers of the recognised religions, in the eyes of world leaders. This independence in turn will smooth the way for the official recognition of the Faith of God and the revelation of a glorious victory, comparable to the triumph and victory that fell to the Christian community in the fourth Christian century, in the reign of Constantine the Great. With the passage of time, official recognition will be transmuted and will lead ultimately to the establishment of divine Sovereignty and the manifestation of the temporal power of the Law-Giver of this great Cause. This divine Sovereignty will eventually result in the foundation and establishment of the worldly sovereignty and the revelation of the splendour of the all-encompassing outward and spiritual dominion of the Bahai institutions, the establishment of the supreme tribunal, and the promulgation of universal peace, which is the seventh and last stage. As Baha’u’llah has written: “these great oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent of the Most Great Justice.” (Trans. by Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, 27.) This Most Great Justice is the one and only foundation for the Most Great Peace, and the Most Great Peace is the guarantor of permanent unity between peoples and kindreds, and this permanent unity will reveal to all eyes the sovereignty of the Most Great Name throughout the world. This final stage itself is the prelude to the emergence and efflorescence of true divine civilization, to the world’s attainment to the greatest possible perfection and its transfiguration into a province of the heavens, “attaining to the Garden of Glory” and “Glory to our Lord, the all-Glorious, and Praise be to God, the Exalted. (Tawqi`at-e Mubarakih, Bahai-Verlag 1992, pp 500-504, corresponds to pages 119 to 123 in the 1962 Iranian edition)

For our present purposes the relevant phrase is “the all-encompassing outward and spiritual dominion of the Bahai institutions,” which is followed by “the establishment of the supreme tribunal, and the promulgation of universal peace.” The Supreme Tribunal is mentioned in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament: “…that all the dwellers on earth may become one people and one race, that the world may become even as one home. Should differences arise, they shall be amicably and conclusively settled by the Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, 13)

The Supreme Tribunal is a political body, whose job is to deliver final judgement on differences that arise between nations. Its name, purpose and membership differ from those of the Universal House of Justice, also named in the Will and Testament. Shoghi Effendi also calls it the ‘world tribunal.’ (WOB 203) So if Shoghi Effendi expects the establishment of the supreme tribunal to accompany and follow the worldly and spiritual dominion of the Bahai institutions, he can hardly have subscribed to that fantastic theory whereby the Bahais and people of good will would work for generations to establish ‘once for all’ the world commonwealth of nations with its world legislature, world executive and world tribunal, only to abolish them to allow the Bahai Administrative Order to supersede mere human governments.

Having defined what “worldly sovereignty,” the “outward … dominion of the Bahai institutions,” and the “temporal power of the Law-Giver” cannot mean, what is meant? What kind of worldly sovereignty and temporal power would leave room for the Tribunal and for Baha’u’llah’s statement that “The one true God … hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings.” Baha’u’llah himself explains (and Shoghi Effendi translates):

Consider, how great is the change today! Behold, how many are the Sovereigns who bow the knee before [Muhammad’s] name! How numerous the nations and kingdoms who have sought the shelter of His shadow, who bear allegiance to His Faith, and pride themselves therein!… Such is His earthly sovereignty … (Kitab-e Iqan, 110)

Shoghi Effendi’s two references, to the outward dominion of Bahai institutions, “the establishment of the supreme tribunal” are not contradictory, if we suppose that the institutions’ outward dominion is of the same type (but of a lesser order) as the earthly sovereignty of the Manifestations, and as such is not in competition with the institutions on which Baha’u’llah bestows “the government of the earth.” One is in the religious sphere, the other is political. ‘Sovereignty’ is a concept we are most familiar with in the doctrine of national sovereignty, but the word means holding the highest authority, free from external control: it is not exclusively political in meaning.

There’s a very similar reference, in Shoghi Effendi’s letter for the following Naw Ruz [note 3]. He describes the Bahai world administrative centre in Haifa as “the seat of sovereignty, and of spiritual and temporal dominion, and the highest authority, for the followers of the Cause.” (An observant reader of the Persian will notice that it is not only the ‘seat’ but also ‘the place where the groom lifts the veil of the bride and sees her beauty’ – which is all one word in Persian !).

The summing-up

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: You have heard the various charges against ‘your humble brother,’ Shoghi Effendi. That he introduced the doctrine of theocratic government into Bahai teachings, in contradiction to the clear text of the scriptures that “..your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth” and Abdu’l-Baha’s confident prediction “Should they place in the arena the crown of the government of the whole world, and invite each one of us to accept it, undoubtedly we shall not condescend, and shall refuse to accept it.” That he wavered on this issue, contradicted himself, changed his mind during the course of his ministry, said one thing in Persian and something different in English, or held other views in private than those that he stated in public.

Exonerate Shoghi Effendi – and relieve yourselves of a burden. Reason tells us that theocracies never work, and a state in which people of only one faith are allowed to vote for a government organ whose decisions affect all, can never be equitable in principle, however kind one might hope it would be in practice. The World Order of Baha’u’llah cannot be based on a fundamental inequity.

And if we are clear that the separation of Church and State is a principle that is consistently taught by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and applies to the Bahai institutions as much as to non-Bahai ones, we will have much less difficulty in presenting the Bahai World Order model.

It has a basic two-part architecture, the religious and the political spheres, separate and cooperating. In the political sphere there are three arms: the judicial, executive, and legislative. They exist at local and national levels and according to the Guardian will eventually exist at a global level, as part of the commonwealth of nations. This is a civil government: in the Guardian’s descriptions of it there is no mention at all of the Houses of Justice or Assemblies. (see, for example, World Order of Baha’u’llah 203 )

We also have an Administrative Order, which is a government of the religious community, by the religious community, in religious and community matters. This does not separate the judicial, executive, and legislative; rather it separates the liturgical (House of Worship), the doctrinal (the Guardianship) and its extensions for propagation and protection, known collectively as the Learned of Baha, and the ‘legislative’ which is also the religious judiciary (the House of Justice both makes the laws and is the highest court of appeal for Bahais), known collectively as the Rulers of Baha.

All this is simple enough: The world order has two arms, each divided into three organs, giving six core institutions. The Bahai community also has the function of “Head of the Faith’ which was held first by Baha’u’llah, then Abdu’l-Baha, then the Guardian and now by the Universal House of Justice. This position entails “authority” – something like the executive in the civil government. The Guardian is the head and sole member of the doctrinal arm (though he had assistants), and he often refused to “legislate” on matters, saying instead that the future Universal House of Justice would have to decide. Nevertheless, when he gave instructions to NSAs and individuals, they had to be obeyed; yet these instructions did not become part of Bahai law. And now, when the Universal House of Justice gives instructions, they have to be obeyed (yet they do not become part of Bahai doctrine). So instead of three distinct judicial, executive, and legislative arms, as in the commonwealth of nations, in the Bahai Commonwealth we have the House of Worship, the Guardianship and the House of Justice, representing Liturgy, Doctrine and Law, and another function, the executive, which we call “Head of the Faith,” now performed by the Universal House of Justice. The distinction between the Guardian as authorised interpreter of the Bahai Writings, and Shoghi Effendi acting as Head of the Faith at the time, gives us a clearer idea of what was essential to the Guardianship. The tens of thousands of letters from or on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, on minor administrative matters, do not represent the essence of the Guardianship, and by their simple volume they tend to give us an impression of Shoghi Effendi as a prosaic administrative type. That’s a false picture: these prosaic matters fell to him because he was Head of the Faith, but if we want to see who Shoghi Effendi was and what he thought the office of Guardianship entailed, we should look to his books and the general letters he addressed to the Bahai community as a whole.

On the political side of the World Order, nations have heads of state, which may take the form of a monarch, a president, or some other form. The ideal form of government is a constitutional monarchy but that ideal has to embodied in the material actually available in a nation, its history, culture, existing institutions etc. The Head of State may have executive power, as in an American-style presidency, but in the most successful democracies, the executive power is exercised by a cabinet rather than the head of state. (For the reasons why this is most successful, see the Practicalities of Monarchy on this blog).

The six essential organs, and the head of the Faith and head of state, gives us a six-plus-two model of the World Order of Baha’u’llah. If we then read the Bahai Writings, putting each bit into the appropriate box, the Writings are quite clear and not (very) hard to understand. The difficulties Bahais have arise largely from trying to impose preconceived categories on the Writings, and to a lesser extent by the difficulties of the Guardian’s prose, some awkward or bad translations etc., and misunderstandings based on pilgrim’s notes. But if the basic architecture of the model is right, it is all simple and non-contradictory, and that’s how you know that the architecture is ‘right’ — if you try some other model, the Bahai teachings on governance look contradictory and confusing. You might then think that it is Shoghi Effendi who is inconsistent. But that would be wrong. After all, if you interpreted the US constitution on the assumption that the Supreme Court was another name for the legislature, and the House of Representatives was an early stage of the legislature and it would be called the Senate in the Golden Age and they would all eventually be merged somehow in the Supreme Executive – with those sort of assumptions, the constitution would look complicated and contradictory, and rather terrifying, would it not? But this, more or less, is what has happened with previous attempts to outline the structure of Baha’u’llah’s World Order. And such a muddle does not do justice to Shoghi Effendi’s thinking.

~~ Sen McGlinn ~~
Short link: http://tinyurl.com/defendshoghieffendi
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20 Responses to “Defending Shoghi Effendi”

  1. Randy said

    “And as the Baha’i Faith permeates the masses…and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples…, will the Universal House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise as the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth all the rights, the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future superstate.”

    Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective? In a truly Bahai World Commonwealth, the supra-supreme power would be the Universial House of Justice which would in effect be blessing the established primarily elected governments of the world and the future world government. As a supra-supreme institution it would develop completely “new” rights, duties, and responsibilities such as no religious institution had ever possessed before. These rights, duties and responsibilities would not be temporal in nature, rather they would likely be spiritual in nature.

    Cheers, Randy

  2. Randy said

    I might add that perhaps those of us who are Americans don’t really understand what Shoghi Effendi is referring to when he uses the term “future superstate.” Super, of course, means “over and above, more than, exceeding, next above or higher,” etc. when used as a prefix. Thus the UHJ would be “over and above” actual sovereign states, but not necessarily in charge of government. I think most American’s will mistakenly assume that “superstate” means a “state” that is “super” (i.e. in charge of) but that is not the obvious meaning of superstate.

    Cheers, Randy

  3. Sen said

    You are supposing that he means that the Universal House of Justice would be the super-state. But what he says, is that the UHJ is “the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 7). The Bahai Commonwealth is a non-state non-political religious community, headed by the Universal House of Justice. (see ‘Two Commonwealths‘ on this blog. The super-state in Shoghi Effendi’s terminology is the machinery of the commonwelath of nations, which is a political community of states:

    …the future Commonwealth of all the nations of the world? Some form of a world super-state must needs be evolved, …Such a state will have to include within its orbit an international executive … a world parliament whose members shall be elected by the people in their respective countries and whose election shall be confirmed by their respective governments; and a supreme tribunal (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 40)

    Shoghi Effendi’s description of it seems clear enough. The world super-state or commonwealth of nations, as described above, is clearly an inter-state and fundamentally political structure. Note that he does not mention the Guardianship the Universal House of Justice or the Bahais.

  4. Sam said

    Great article Sen but theres one section thats leaving me worried:

    “In brief, it is clear that a merger between the institutions in the sense defined above is neither possible nor desirable. On the other hand, Shoghi Effendi says that the institutions of the world government, including the Tribunal, are to be sustained by “universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation” and since the Baha’i state is to function “in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy, the Mother-Book of the Baha’i Revelation” (Messages to the Baha’i World 155; see also <Advent of Divine Justice 15) it must be assumed that, having given its allegiance to the ‘common Revelation’, the world government would also be committed to function in accordance with the Aqdas. And who is to set forth and supplement the laws of the Aqdas for the world government except the Universal House of Justice?

    The relationship between the Universal House of Justice and world governments is comparable to the relationship between Baha’u'llah and the kings: he did not tell the kings to give up their thrones, but he did set before them a very high standard of justice and integrity. (The Pope, in contrast, was called on to give up earthly sovereignty). When the institutions of the world government indeed make a formal commitment to function in conformity with the laws and principles of Baha’u'llah, the Universal House of Justice will clearly acquire an integral and institutionalized role in world governance. "

    So this article as a whole (as well as the rest of your essays and articles) show from the Writings that the institutions of temporal government and the institutions of the Faith are not the same thing. But doesn’t the passage I cited above sound like national and the future world government would be subservient to the institutions if they function “in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas..>”

    Isn’t that a defacto theocracy? For a national government (let alone a -world- government) to commit themselves wholly to one religion doesn’t that mean (hypothetically) that either: 1) pluralism has gone out the window because i’m not sure how you can function “in strict accordance” with the rules of more than one religion; or 2) There is at least a majority or super-majority (like 66% or more) of Bahais in the world at the time and all non-Bahais have to now live with civil institutions functioning “in strict accordance in all religious and civil matters” (like Baha’i law being enforced on non-Bahais) of a religion not of their own?

    Unless all of this is a moot point since the Aqdas does say that it “disclaims any intention of laying hands on their kingdoms…” ? I’m confused here.

  5. Sen said

    Bahai law does not allow non-Bahais to be required to obey Bahai law, nor does it give any value to religious obedience given without assent (that’s the first paragraph of the Aqdas). Religious law by its very nature demands a freely-given assent. So there’s no question of the citizens of a Bahai state being coerced to act as if they were Bahais.

    That’s reassuring, but it just leads on to the question, what did Shoghi Effendi mean by a Bahai State? It is something beyond recognition and establishment, and it involves the state binding itself (not its citizens) to function according to Bahai law. The Bahai teachings contain many prescriptions for the state:

    – to restrain the tyranny of the oppressor, and to deal equitably with your subjects (Gleanings, 247)
    – to limit the tax burden (Gleanings 250)
    – to operate a locally-based participatory social-security network (See Abdu’l-Baha’s socialism on this blog)
    – to lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace (Gleanings 249)
    – to safeguard the position of religion (not one specific religion) (Tablets of Baha’u’llah 129)
    – to ensure the protection and security of their citizens (Gleanings 206)
    – to establish rules and laws to regulate the excessive fortunes of certain individuals and meet the needs of the poor masses (Some Answered Questions, 274)
    – to ensure the Press is not mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public
    – not to interfere in matters of conscience (Traveller’s narrative 29, 40 etc )
    – equal dealing towards all peoples (i.e., religious communities) Traveller’s narrative 87

    and acting with other states

    – to choose an international auxiliary language and arrange for its teaching (Tablets of Baha’u’llah 165)
    – to institute a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203)
    – to support and obey the international tribunal (parliaments are its electoral base)
    – to approve the popular election of national representatives to the world parliament

    I am sure there are many more such laws and exhortations, which are directed at rulers and states as such, rather than at individual believers. Perhaps other readers can add to the list, and we will get an outline of the policy limits within which a Bahai state must function, to be a Bahai state.

    ~~ Sen

  6. Randy said

    “Some form of a world super-state must needs be evolved”

    “You are supposing that he means that the Universal House of Justice would be the super-state. ”

    No Sen, I guess I wasn’t clear. I was agreeing with you. what I was trying to suggest is that the term “super-state” (super as an adverb) is actually referring to a state-of-states as you suggest, while the term “superstate” without the hyphen is using super as a prefix, meaning “above state” ie without qualities of a “state” but above the control of the “state” or “super-state.”

    Cheers, Randy

  7. Sen said

    Hi Randy, Shoghi Effendi’s typescript for this letter had different punctuation in the sentence and spells this word superstate, rather than super-state. It’s not possible to analyse Shoghi Effendi’s punctuation and spelling and so on using published works, because editors change these things. The hyphen was inserted in the version in Bahai World volume 3, and it is quite possible that Shoghi Effendi is the editor who changed this.

  8. Kim said

    Wonderful article and very reassuring. I do wonder about the matter of punishments for civil crimes detailed in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. That had led me to believe that the House of Justice would also serve as the civil court. I would appreciate a few of the author’s thoughts on that matter. Thank you.

  9. Sam said

    Hi Sen,

    Just so you know, i’m not trying to argue against you and as you say: Intelligent people rarely contradict themselves.

    So I hope all of this is a misunderstanding on my part thats leading me to these conclusions (especially since I am a fellow Baha’i)

    A (free and democratic) state is made up citizens regardless of their religious beliefs. I mean I can see how a current sitting government/administration made up of Baha’is might want to abide and implement some of those principles. Is that what you meant?

    Because for an entire state to “bind itself” sounds to me like altering its constitution so that some or all of those principles form some sort of Basic or Constitutional law which cannot be altered (save altering the constitution itself). Changing a constitution is obviously not an easy process and if something like this actually succeeds in happening than those non-Bahai citizens have their country bound to follow certain precepts of a religion to which they do not belong; in this case I described, having a general parliamentary election is simply not enough, one would need to have yet another alteration of the constitution.

    You write in “Executive and Legislative”:

    “…and that the ideal harmonious relationship (as stipulated in the Will and Testament) between the House of Justice and Government will apply when the Bahai Faith is accepted entirely by any nation.

    If its accepted entirely by a nation, doesn’t that mean that nation isn’t religiously pluralistic anymore?

    But in “Future of Religions” you write:

    “Permanent religious pluralism is an obvious fact we can see in the world.”

    “Religious diversity is here to stay. This would not have been obvious to the early American Bahais. America’s domination by Christianity, and its history of revivalism, made it plausible for them to think of everyone converting to the Bahai Faith in a world religious revival.”

    “In the postmodern world order (as it will be, with global justice, pluralism, protection of human rights, rule of law etc), there is no place for the old religious order of religions claiming exclusive truth, or their exclusive validity for one people. Given the shape of the World Order, the required religious order has to be tolerant, it cannot give priority to one religion over others, it has to work together for common goals (the well-being of humanity), and so on.”

    Isn’t a national or world government working in “strict conformity” with the Baha’i faith giving the Baha’i faith “exclusive validity” and “exclusive truth” ? My perception and understanding seems to indicate a very non-postmodern modern state here; it looks more almost like medieval church state or maybe more like an ideological state than postmodern. I don’t think thats the ultimate goal or vision of the Faith, is it? Everything is post-modern, liberal nice and dandy and then it goes from the establishment stage to becoming a “Baha’i state”? I can’t reconcile those quotes from above. Doesn’t that lend weight to people who say that establishment is a slippery slope that can lead to this happening?

    If at the national level the state becomes a “Baha’i state” because as you say the Faith is accepted by “is accepted entirely by any nation.” then does it follow that it the world state becoming a Baha’i state, the same thing applies at a world level: “is accepted entirely by the world.”? But then you did write in “All Baha’i?” under the Email Archives:

    “I do not think that Baha’u’llah ever envisioned or said anything so
    simple, and absurd, as all the people in the world becoming Bahais.
    His vision is of the evolution of a world religious system, as one
    organ in a World Order.”

    And going back to Future of Religions again:

    “We cannot imagine that today. Geographic mobility and the increasing trend for people to leave and join religions of choice mean that every society on earth will, in the near future, become religiously diverse (most already are), and they will stay that way. So long as there is freedom of religion, and free investigation of truth, religious uniformity is simply impossible. Since both of these are Bahai teachings, a religiously uniform world could not be Bahai, and a Bahai world could not be religiously uniform.

    So if religious uniformity not possible (which is logical and makes sense to me) how can a national or world state it-self ever become a “Baha’i state” and function in “strict accordance” to the laws of Baha’i faith (not withstanding my concerns regarding the implications of that, that I wrote above).

    All of this scares me because all you have to do is replace the world “Baha’i” in “Baha’i state” to something else and its like you got yourself yet another “modern” ideological state.

    I hope you can shed some light on this, Sen.

    Thanks.

  10. Sen said

    Hi Kim,
    that section of the Aqdas does not specify who is responsible for the punishments, or for criminal law in general, but Baha’u’llah stipulates this in other places, such as:

    …All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, [God] hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth. … What mankind needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority … The instruments which are essential to the immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race have been entrusted to … the governors of human society. This is the wish of God and His decree… (Gleanings, CII 206)

    The Aqdas contains laws which are to be implemented by the individual according to his/her conscience (fasting, huquq), by Bahais collectively (establishing the House of Justice), by the people of the world (establishing Mashriqu’l-adhkars), by individual governments ( “Bind ye the broken with the hands of
    justice, and crush the oppressor who flourisheth with the rod of the commandments of your Lord…” (Aqdas K88) and by governments collectively (universal script and language, K189). So far as I know it does not contain any laws which the Aqdas itself says the House of Justice must implement, but the writings of Abdu’l-Baha and Baha’u’llah do specify laws to be enforced by the assemblies and sanctions they may use. So for each law, we have to ask, who implements it? It is far from automatic that it should be the House of Justice.

  11. Sen said

    I do think that Shoghi Effendi had something like a constitutional commitment in mind, because he envisions it as something more than establishment (the stage ..“which Christianity entered in the years following the death of the Emperor Constantine”), and establishment is already a constitutional relationship, whether or not there is a written constitution and specific rules for changing it. But more than just a commitment to act, he refers to the Bahai state as one that actually does what it is committed to do: “… functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i Aqdas” (Messages to the Baha’i World 1950-1957, 155).

    The reference to being accepted by a nation is in a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, on 18 April 1941,:

    By “Government” … is meant the executive body which will enforce the laws when the Bahá’í Faith has reached the point when it is recognized and _accepted entirely by any particular nation.

    Because this is written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, we cannot hang too much on the particular words, but the letter does not say ‘when it is accepted by the entirety of a nation,’ but rather when the Bahai Faith in its entirety is recognised and accepted by a nation. I understand that as meaning, recognised and accepted in the structures of the state, which would normally entail it being written into constitutional documents, because that is how a state does that.

    Isn’t a national or world government working in “strict conformity” with the Baha’i faith giving the Baha’i faith “exclusive validity” and “exclusive truth” ? My perception and understanding seems to indicate a very non-postmodern modern state here; it looks more almost like medieval church state or maybe more like an ideological state than postmodern.

    It’s a sharp comment. I’ve argued this previously with Margit Warburg, in ‘A difficult case: Beyer’s categories and the Baha’i Faith’ in Social Compass 50(2), 2003, 247-255.
    http://ebooks.lib.unair.ac.id/download.php?id=2115
    It makes a difference, I think, that the medieval Catholic Church claimed to offer the only way to salvation, and supported the use of force to bring non-believers into the fold and against heresy, whereas the Bahai Faith does not. The Bahai Faith does not claim itself to have exclusive truth, rather it says that all religious truth is relative. It does make a difference what as state binds itself to. A state that binds itself to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has in a sense adopted an ideology, but it is an ideology that specifies that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – regardless of what ideology they hold; that “Everyone is entitled to all .. rights and freedoms without distinction of … political or other opinion” and “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought” – it is an ideology which limits the ideological intrusion of the state. It would be absurd to say that a state that recognises the Declaration as meta-law is more ideological than one which does not. In the same way, a commitment to
    – the oneness of humanity
    – to ensure the Press is not mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public
    – not to interfere in matters of conscience
    – equal dealing towards all peoples (i.e., religious communities)
    etc.. is not smuggling in aspects of the centralised national state of the modern age, it is rather giving institutional expression to elements of the postmodern state. If the postmodern state is to exist, it must have institutional expression. It could be said that the postmodern state defines acceptable outcomes procedurally, rather than ideologically: the legitimate government is not one that supports Kemalism (for example), but one that secures a majority and acts in a constitutional way. But how does a postmodern state decide what values to incorporate in its procedures? What makes it say that democracy is not just ‘the majority prevails’ but also ‘the individual has rights regardless of whether the majority agrees’? What makes it say that everyone has the vote, and all votes weigh equally? There’s an ideological commitment underlying the postmodern state, a universalist commitment to the value of the individual, and this is different in kind to the particularist commitments of the centralised states of the modern era – to ‘the American way’ or ‘Ataturk’s vision’ or ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ Those were commitments made by the state for the state – whereas the individualism that underlies postmodern society and a postmodern state is a commitment by the state for the individual, for his or her potential and freedom to develop it.

    At the international level, Shoghi Effendi envisions the world commonwealth of nations being committed to “the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203).

    So if religious uniformity not possible (which is logical and makes sense to me) how can a national or world state it-self ever become a “Baha’i state” and function in “strict accordance” to the laws of Baha’i faith

    It would be impractical and unwise to make this a constitutional principle, unless there is also an evolution within the religious order, such that religious communities do not regard the Bahai community as a threat, but rather see the legal embodiment of its values as their own best guarantee of freedom of religion and expression, and a governmental environment that fosters religions.

    Baha’u’llah writes in the second leaf of Paradise

    “The Pen of the Most High exhorteth, at this moment, the manifestations of authority and the sources of power, namely the kings, the sovereigns, the presidents, the rulers, the divines and the wise, and enjoineth them to uphold the cause of religion, and to cleave unto it. Religion is verily the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world and of tranquillity amongst its peoples. The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the foolish and emboldened them and made them more arrogant. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 63)

    A state that adopts this as a principle, is recognising also its own limitations in the vital task of producing virtuous citizens, and its need for religions (and civil society, and families): it recognises that the state is in partnership with other organs in society. Nationalistic and ideological states arose at a time when the weakening of institutional religion was becoming very obvious, and they tried to fill the gap by giving alternative reasons for altruism: for the Fatherland, for the triumph of the proletariat, for the 1000-year Reich, and so on. These states put themselves in competition with religious communities, civil societies and even families. So paradoxical as it may seem, a state that binds itself to the Bahai teachings, and therefore fosters “the cause of religion” as a vital part of human society, provides a better guarantee for the future of religious minorities and families, and of non-religious organs of civil society, than a secular state, which may one day be tempted to propagate its own state ideology.

    In the UK today, the boot’s on the other foot: the Anglican church is established and the Bahais are the minority. Are the Bahais worried by that? Not on your nellie. Neither are the Muslims or the Jews or the Hindus

  12. namayn said

    What most of humanity outside of the Bahai community will see as the legacy of Shoghi Effendi when that day comes when the world focuses in on the state of the Bahai Faith will be the whole history of excommunications and shunnings of not only Bahais but his family including the wife of AbdulBaha as well as his parents. And the contrast of that with – the world is one country and mankind its citizens.
    Folks can relate to that drama and how that legacy still permeates the current Bahai state of affairs and cannot possibly be the path to unity for the human race. And yet that painful legacy and test will in fact become the source of healing and renewal as humanity looks again with a fresh perspective at the teachings of Bahaullah and AbdulBaha through their eyes and not the eyes of Shoghi Effendi.

  13. Sen said

    Having studied both early Christian history, and early Islamic history, I am quite impressed with the wisdom of the rule introduced by Baha’u’llah and first systematically applied by Abdu’l-Baha (not by Shoghi Effendi), that the Bahais should shun covenant-breakers (with the proviso clarified by Shoghi, that their legal and civil rights must be fully respected). It’s a policy of “give them enough rope to hang themselves.” By not continuing in a state of conflict with people who cannot be reconciled to him or his community, Abdu’l-Baha allowed them to show their own character and aims. There’s a Tablet of `Abdu’l-Baha to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl in Volume 4 of “Muntakhabaati az makaatib-i hadrat-i `Abdu’l-Baha” (Germany, 2000) pp. 232-259 in which he says,

    ” O divine friends! Think not that by this reference specific persons were intended; rather my intention is the party of the lukewarm. I adjure you by the Ancient Beauty not to insult anyone or wish humiliation on any soul. Never repudiate anyone, who either specifically, or by allusion or by insinuation ascribes charges of heresy, blasphemy, atheism, loss, error or wickedness. Never charge anyone with impiety. Do not oppose and resist anyone, even if it is in defense…. However, do not be deceived by anyone, and do not lend ears to the flattery of some. Quickly discern the doubts of the doubtful. Be perspicacious. Do not be misled. ”

    and further on:

    “In the Cause of God there is not and never shall be excommunication or condemnation, nor is it permissible to silence or humiliate others. Do not argue with anyone nor engage in disputation. Do not wish any person’s degradation, nor mention their name in fault. Do not seek anybody’s loss and do not loosen your tongue to an unkind description of any man. Never backbite about any soul and do not lift the veil from anyone’s deeds. So long as a soul expresses steadfastness, do not protest and do not disgrace him. … Leave the party of the lukewarm to themselves and refer them to the Lord of the Covenant and Testament, as He is the Living, the Ancient, the All-Mighty, the All-Powerful, and the Destroyer of the foundation of every conniving and scheme.”

    If this policy was abandoned, and the friends instead engaged in continuing debate and dispute with people with whom a real fellowship is impossible, or began denouncing them as heretics and the like, it would quickly become unclear who was really in the right, for such behaviour would itself give some justification for their enmity.

    In the tablet to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, Abdu’l-Baha describes how he continued with the policy of not denouncing individuals, until at a certain time he began to receive letters that these people had sent to the Bahais (presumably in Iran), and which the recipients were forwarding to Abdu’l-Baha. By not denouncing them, Abdu’l-Baha had given them the rope to hang themselves, and they had eventually shown their true colours without the picture being clouded by any previous words or actions of Abdu’l-Baha. Once they had shown their colours, the reaction of the believers was obvious, because Baha’u’llah had written:

    “Shun any man in whom you perceive enmity for this Servant, though he may appear in the garb of piety of the former and later people, or may arise to the worship of the two worlds.” (cited by Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, 431)

    and again:

    “Say, O my friend and my pure ones! Listen to the Voice of this Beloved Prisoner in this Great Prison. If you detect in any man the least perceptible breath of violation, shun him and keep away from him.” (Baha’i World Faith, p. 431)

    ~~ Sen

  14. namayn said

    It is my understanding that most former Bahais, unenrolled Bahais or Bahais that simply believe in Bahaullah and AbdulBaha have no issue with the directives of Bahaullah or AbdulBaha on shunning and covenant breaking (perhaps the exception being Unitarian Bahais with regards to AbdulBaha and his brother). The issue is with the use of excommunication as used by Shoghi Effendi as part of the Bahai Administration during his lifetime and as afterwards continued by the present Bahai Administration in Haifa.
    No doubt it will be the major focus of measuring Shoghi Effendi’s leadership skills outside of the Bahai community, especially should the eyes of a large part of humanity focus in on what this religion is all about. If the Bahai Faith has merely become just another religion as Huston Smith wrote, then I don’t see the practice of excommunication and shunning being of much concern ultimately from Bahaullah on down through the Bahai Administration centered in Haifa. But if the Bahai Faith is purported to be a path to the unity and healing of the human race, then the history of excommunication in the Bahai Faith cannot help but be a source of great focus for many. Obviously those who currently are members of the Bahai Faith will resoundingly assess it as a wise practice as members of other religions/sects have also done so within their own organizations. Still ultimately these practices of the mainstream Bahai Faith will be weighed and perhaps contrasted with other Bahai sects/divisions/paths that are out there, however small in membership who hold a different view on the wisdom of excommunication and shunning.

  15. Sen said

    Shoghi Effendi’s example in this respect is no different to that of Abdu’l-Baha, as can be seen from Abdu’l-Baha’s Last Tablet to America. Every Head of the Faith from Baha’u’llah onwards has followed the same line, and it has been steadily effective. It does not prevent people making claims and pushing their own barrow (nothing could prevent that, if people are to be free), but by withdrawing from these people we allow their own actions to demonstrate their character to the world, without muddying the waters by our own interaction with them, and we allow the groups that form around such people to fall apart in internal disputes, precisely because they have no alternative to a clear written Covenant, and authorised interpreters of it.

    The difference between the mainstream Bahais and the groups you’ve mentioned are not in fact with respect to the policy of shunning, but as to whom they accept as Head of the Faith. Someone who does not accept the appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as Head of the Faith will naturally disagree with Abdu’l-Baha’s treatment of his brother, because the issue between them was accepting Baha’u’llah’s appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as Head of the Faith. Someone who does not accept Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament, appointing Shoghi Effendi as Head of the Faith, will disagree with Shoghi Effendi’s call for the Bahais to shun people who do not accept the Will and Testament (see Mitchell’s mistake on this blog). That’s not because they can question the policy of shunning as such – it is laid down by Baha’u’llah – but because they do not accept that Shoghi Effendi was the Head of the Faith with authority to do this.

    History of course is always the judge. There are today a number of Bahai splinter groups of one or a few people, who do not accept the Universal House of Justice as Head of the Faith. Cyberspace allows us to see the bitter disputes between them, in which it quickly becomes unclear to the watcher who was originally the aggressor and who the defendant, for each seems as bad as the other. They serve as a living demonstration that unity is not created by the methods of anarchy. It would be better for these groups, if they each focussed their energies on achieving good in the world and demonstrating the value of the principles they hold. That is, it would be better for them if they shunned those they really cannot agree with, but such a policy only works effectively if the whole group follows it, and that requires a Head with authority to say when enough is enough, and such an Authority requires a written Covenant and authorised interpreters of it, and that can only come from the pen of Baha’u’llah – and Baha’u’llah has already spoken. So even if individual members of these groups do abandon disputation and get on with demonstrating the virtue of their principles, the fate of these groups as a whole is sealed by the quandary they have put themselves in.

  16. Sam said

    Hi Sen,

    I’m greatly confused with what Abdu’l-Baha is saying:

    “In the Cause of God there is not and never shall be excommunication or condemnation, nor is it permissible to silence or humiliate others.”

    But in the Last Tablet to America he quotes the same versus of Baha’u’llah that you show:

    “Shun any man in whom you perceive enmity for this Servant, though he may appear in the garb of piety of the former and later people, or may arise to the worship of the two worlds.” (cited by Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, 431)

    “Say, O my friend and my pure ones! Listen to the Voice of this Beloved Prisoner in this Great Prison. If you detect in any man the least perceptible breath of violation, shun him and keep away from him.” (Baha’i World Faith, p. 431)

    Its like he’s saying that there is no excommunication but later on says there -is- excommunication?

    And if shunning and being excommunicated are different, then how does this explain Baha’is who have been simply removed from the membership rolls given that Abdu’l-Baha just said that there is “no and -never shall be- excommunication”.

    ex·com·mu·ni·cate
    –verb (used with object)
    1.
    to cut off from communion with a church or exclude from the sacraments of a church by ecclesiastical sentence.
    2.
    to exclude or expel from membership or participation in any group, association, etc.: an advertiser excommunicated from a newspaper.

    I’m utterly confused.

  17. Sen said

    You’re asking me to explain Abdu’l-Baha’s thinking, which is a tall order. As I understand it, what there is not and never shall be in the Bahai Faith is ‘takfir’, that is calling other people kafir, unbeliever, on the basis of their religious beliefs. For example, because his beliefs were thought to be unorthodox, Shaykh Ahmad was subject to a takfir issued by the religious leaders of Qazvin (as I recall). The result of such a ruling is that the person’s marriage is annulled, they become ‘unclean’ so believers who have contact with them have to do a purification before saying their prayers, and so on..

    In the Bahai Faith we don’t have this in three senses: there is no person or body with the authority to judge religious beliefs and declare someone a non-believer, there is no concept that anyone is ‘unclean,’ and being declared a Covenant-breaker does not affect one’s legal status or rights. It’s simply a non-confrontational strategy for dealing with conflict. By separating (as Baha’u’llah separated from Azal in the Istanbul period), the true value of each group will become evident. In practice it has usually amounted to “giving them enough rope to hang themselves,” but if there was a real positive value in their position, that too would become evident.

    Note that Abdu’l-Baha also says that it is not permissible to silence or humiliate others. It really is a non-confrontational stance, intended to exclude all kinds of personal attacks, labelling, infringement of rights etc.. So no labelling of others as outsider, marginal, apostate and the like. That doesn’t mean there is no apologetics, but it can only be arguments about the issues, not labelling of the person. If someone is an apostate, that’s not a label used to humiliate someone who thinks they are a believer – it is used (for example by Shoghi Effendi) in its correct sense for someone who has themselves turned their backs on one religion and joined another.

    Removal from Bahai membership seems to be a different thing. There is a deep significance to being accepted as part of the Muslim `ummah (or being declared a kafir), or being a church member or being excluded from sacraments: it is a matter of personal identity and even salvation. So far as I understand it, enrollment in the Bahai community is not intended to have that weight. There are many countries where there is no enrollment, and there were many exemplary Bahais before enrollment even existed. We can perfectly accurately say that Abu’l-Fadl was not enrolled, but he was certainly a Bahai. So far as I understand it — and this is something the UHJ might clarify — being on the membership rolls is meant to be like voluntary membership of an association, which is a free choice on both sides. There seem to be no procedures or reason required for taking away membership or not giving it in the first place. No explanation is given. It’s like the coach deciding who doesn’t make the cut.

    Those not on the membership list are still Bahais, like those who choose not to enroll or who are for some reason unable to enroll.

  18. Eric said

    Sen, you wrote in a comment: “Someone who does not accept the appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as Head of the Faith will naturally disagree with Abdu’l-Baha’s treatment of his brother, because the issue between them was accepting Baha’u’llah’s appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as Head of the Faith.”

    I don’t think that’s a factually accurate portrayal of the bitter conflict that developed between Abdul-Baha and his brother, Muhammad Ali Ghusn-i-Akbar. Both of these men regarded each other as heretics. Abdul-Baha regarded Ghusn-i-Akbar as a heretic because he would not accept his claim to have absolute authority as the successor of Bahaullah. Ghusn-i-Akbar regarded Abdul-Baha as a heretic because he believed that he was overstepping the bounds of his authority as successor by claiming to have a special station in between human beings and the Manifestation of God, in which his writings were to be regarded by Bahais as the equivalent of sciptural texts. In summary, it was not a dispute over who was the head of the faith; it was a dispute over the station and degree of authority of the head of the faith after Bahaullah.

    Regarding shunning, Abdul-Baha established the precedent that Bahais who believe the successor of Bahaullah has only limited authority rather than absolute authority can be designated by the head of the faith as someone that Bahais must shun. This is what he ordered in the case of Ghusn-i-Akbar and his supporters, and this is likewise what Shoghi Effendi ordered (following Abdul-Baha’s precedent) in the case of family members and other Bahais who did not obey Shoghi Effendi in all his commands or who believed his authority was not absolute.

    This precedent was not set by Bahaullah, because although Bahaullah shunned his brother Mirza Yahya Subh-i-Azal, this was not an internal dispute about the authority of successors in one religion; it was a dispute between the heads of two different religions, Babism and Bahaism.

  19. Sen said

    I reject completely the implication that there is some sort of equivalence between the positions of Abdu’l-Baha and Muhammad Ali. In the first place, look at their fruits. One is a fruitful branch, the other a long-dead twig. It cannot be revived today.

    In the second place, look at what Abdu’l-Baha has against Muhammad Ali:

    Ye know well what the hands of the Center of Sedition, Mirza Muhammad Ali, and his associates have wrought. Among his doings, one of them is the corruption of the Sacred Text whereof ye are all aware, the Lord be praised, and know that it is evident, proven and confirmed by the testimony of his brother, Mirza Badi’u’llah, whose confession is written in his own handwriting, beareth his seal, is printed and spread abroad. This is but one of his misdeeds. … In short, according to the explicit Divine Text the least transgression shall make of this man a fallen creature, and what transgression is more grievous than attempting to destroy the Divine Edifice, breaking the Covenant, erring from the Testament, falsifying the Holy Text, sowing the seeds of doubt, calumniating ‘Abdu’l-Baha, advancing claims for which God hath sent down no warrant, kindling mischief and striving to shed the very blood of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, … Beware lest ye approach this man, for to approach him is worse than approaching fire!
    (Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament, 20)

    But what did Muhammad Ali have against Abdu’l-Baha? Did Abdu’l-Baha ever wrong Muhammad Ali? All he did was prevent Muhammad Ali’s schemes succeeding. All that Muhammad Ali could find to claim, was the baseless allegations that Abdu’l-Baha was setting up an alternative state and plotting rebellion against the Ottomans, and the mere assertion, frequently and clearly refuted, that Abdu’l-Baha had claimed to be a Manifestation of God. If that were true, where is the evidence for it in Abdu’l-Baha’s writings? Abdu’l-Baha’s vehement denials of such a station are on record:

    “I affirm,” is ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s own written comment on [Baha’u’llah’s] the Tablet of the Branch, “that the true meaning, the real significance, the innermost secret of these verses, of these very words, is my own servitude to the sacred Threshold of the Abha Beauty, my complete self-effacement, my utter nothingness before Him. This is my resplendent crown, my most precious adorning. … “No one is permitted,” He warns us in the passage which immediately follows, “to give these verses any other interpretation.” “I am,” He, in this same connection, affirms, “according to the explicit texts of the Kitab-i-Aqdas and the Kitab-i-‘Ahd the manifest Interpreter of the Word of God… Whoso deviates from my interpretation is a victim of his own fancy.”
    (Tr. by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 138)

    Clear enough I think. I’ve been the victim of calumny myself, with ambitions attributed to me I never even toyed with in my dreams. So I am not about to accept that the calumnator is in any way the moral equivalent of the calumnee. Abdu’l-Baha plainly did not claim any station more or less than exactly what Baha’u’llah had given him. Muhammad Ali’s assertion that he did claim more, is a self-serving lie. No equivalence there at all.

    Here’s just some of what Baha’u’llah wrote about Abdu’l-Baha:

    “… well is it with him that hath sought His shelter and abideth beneath His shadow. Verily the Limb of the Law of God hath sprung forth from this Root… A Word hath, as a token of Our grace, gone forth from the Most Great Tablet …Render thanks unto God, O people, for His appearance; for verily He is the most great Favor unto you, the most perfect bounty upon you; and through Him every mouldering bone is quickened. Whoso turneth towards Him hath turned towards God, and whoso turneth away from Him hath turned away from My beauty, hath repudiated My Proof, and transgressed against Me. He is the Trust of God amongst you, His charge within you, His manifestation unto you and His appearance among His favored servants… We have sent Him down in the form of a human temple. Blest and sanctified be God Who createth whatsoever He willeth through His inviolable, His infallible decree. They who deprive themselves of the shadow of the Branch, are lost in the wilderness of error, are consumed by the heat of worldly desires, and are of those who will assuredly perish.”

    “O Thou Who art the apple of Mine eye!” Baha’u’llah, in His own handwriting, thus addresses ‘Abdu’l-Baha, “My glory, the ocean of My loving-kindness, the sun of My bounty, the heaven of My mercy rest upon Thee. We pray God to illumine the world through Thy knowledge and wisdom, to ordain for Thee that which will gladden Thine heart and impart consolation to Thine eyes.” “The glory of God rest upon Thee,” He writes in another Tablet, “and upon whosoever serveth Thee and circleth around Thee. Woe, great woe, betide him that opposeth and injureth Thee. Well is it with him that sweareth fealty to Thee; the fire of hell torment him who is Thine enemy.” “We have made Thee a shelter for all mankind,” He, in yet another Tablet, affirms, “a shield unto all who are in heaven and on earth, a stronghold for whosoever hath believed in God, the Incomparable, the All-Knowing. God grant that through Thee He may protect them, may enrich and sustain them, that He may inspire Thee with that which shall be a wellspring of wealth unto all created things, an ocean of bounty unto all men, and the dayspring of mercy unto all peoples.”
    (Both passages tr. by Shoghi Effendi, in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 135)

    In the light of this, is there any alternative to the orthodox formulation of Bahai belief on this point, written by Shoghi Effendi:

    That ‘Abdu’l-Baha is not a Manifestation of God, that He gets His light, His inspiration and sustenance direct from the Fountain-head of the Baha’i Revelation; that He reflects even as a clear and perfect Mirror the rays of Baha’u’llah’s glory, and does not inherently possess that indefinable yet all-pervading reality the exclusive possession of which is the hallmark of Prophethood; that His words are not equal in rank, though they possess an equal validity with the utterances of Baha’u’llah; that He is not to be acclaimed as the return of Jesus Christ, the Son Who will come “in the glory of the Father” — these truths find added justification, and are further reinforced, by the following statement of ‘Abdu’l-Baha …: “You have written that there is a difference among the believers concerning the ‘Second Coming of Christ.’ Gracious God! Time and again this question hath arisen, and its answer hath emanated in a clear and irrefutable statement from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, that what is meant in the prophecies by the ‘Lord of Hosts’ and the ‘Promised Christ’ is the Blessed Perfection (Baha’u’llah) and His holiness the Exalted One (the Bab). My name is ‘Abdu’l-Baha [servant of Baha]. My qualification is ‘Abdu’l-Baha. My reality is ‘Abdu’l-Baha. My praise is ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion… No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except ‘Abdu’l-Baha. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 139)

    What then of Muhammad Ali. What mention does he deserve? What good works has he done, where are the hungry he fed, what writings has he left us, what hearts has he transformed, what community has he created?

    He gets a passing mention, in Baha’u’llah’s Will:

    It is incumbent upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and My Kindred to turn, one and all, their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch [Abdu’l-Baha]. Consider that which We have revealed in Our Most Holy Book [aqdas link]: ‘When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.’ The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [Abdu’l-Baha]. Thus have We graciously revealed unto you Our potent Will, and I am verily the Gracious, the All-Powerful. Verily God hath ordained the station of the Greater Branch [Muhammad Ali] to be beneath that of the Most Great Branch [Abdu’l-Baha]. He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Wise. We have chosen ‘the Greater’ after ‘the Most Great’, as decreed by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 221-2)

    Because there is no equivalence between Abdu’l-Baha and Muhammad Ali, there can be no “bitter conflict … between Abdul-Baha and his brother.” The choice facing Muhammad Ali was simply to obey their Father and submit to Abdu’l-Baha, or to mutiny. He made his choice; I for one am not about to give him any credit for it.

    As for the other points you raise, it is not true that Abdu’l-Baha’s writings are “regarded by Bahais as the equivalent of scriptural texts.” (See above: “His words are not equal in rank, though they possess an equal validity with the utterances of Baha’u’llah”)

    You say also that “Abdul-Baha established the precedent that Bahais who believe the successor of Bahaullah has only limited authority rather than absolute authority can be designated by the head of the faith as someone that Bahais must shun.”

    This is simply untrue: I leave it to you whether it is ignorance or calumny. Abdu’l-Baha’s own emphatic words against those who would give him any authority higher than what Baha’u’llah had explicitly stated, have been cited above. Likewise your similar assertion about Shoghi Effendi: in sober fact, Shoghi Effendi was at pains to emphasise that his authority, his sphere of action and his infallibility were limited:

    The Guardian of the Faith must not under any circumstances, and whatever his merits or his achievements, be exalted to the rank that will make him a co-sharer with ‘Abdu’l-Baha in the unique position which the Center of the Covenant occupies – much less to the station exclusively ordained for the Manifestation of God. So grave a departure from the established tenets of our Faith is nothing short of open blasphemy. As I have already stated, in the course of my references to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s station, however great the gulf that separates Him from the Author of a Divine Revelation it can never measure with the distance that stands between Him Who is the Center of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant and the Guardians who are its chosen ministers. There is a far, far greater distance separating the Guardian from the Center of the Covenant than there is between the Center of the Covenant and its Author.

    No Guardian of the Faith, I feel it my solemn duty to place on record, can ever claim to be the perfect exemplar of the teachings of Baha’u’llah or the stainless mirror that reflects His light. Though overshadowed by the unfailing, the unerring protection of Baha’u’llah and of the Bab, and however much he may share with ‘Abdu’l-Baha the right and obligation to interpret the Baha’i teachings, he remains essentially human and cannot, if he wishes to remain faithful to his trust, arrogate to himself, under any pretense whatsoever, the rights, the privileges and prerogatives which Baha’u’llah has chosen to confer upon His Son. In the light of this truth to pray to the Guardian of the Faith, to address him as lord and master, to designate him as his holiness, to seek his benediction, to celebrate his birthday, or to commemorate any event associated with his life would be tantamount to a departure from those established truths that are enshrined within our beloved Faith. The fact that the Guardian has been specifically endowed with such power as he may need to reveal the purport and disclose the implications of the utterances of Baha’u’llah and of ‘Abdu’l-Baha does not necessarily confer upon him a station co-equal with those Whose words he is called upon to interpret. He can exercise that right and discharge this obligation and yet remain infinitely inferior to both of them in rank and different in nature.
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 151)

    Finally, you claim that this policy of shunning covenant-breakers was not established by Baha’u’llah himself. I have already posted a selection of writings from Baha’u’llah, where they are cited in Abdu’l-Baha’s last tablet to America. Study this tablet.

    Mirza Yahya was “the Arch-Breaker of the Covenant of the Bab” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 165), as Muhammad Ali was “the arch-breaker of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah.” (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, 191) Baha’u’llah instructed his followers to shun Mirza Yahya, and those who followed and associated with him. He did not tell them to shun the Babis! As Abdu’l-Baha says in that tablet:

    If this objection be raised against ‘Abdu’l-Baha, they must also object to the Blessed Beauty who, with distinct and conclusive command, forbids the friends from companionship and familiarity with the violators of the people of Bayan.

    The reason for the policy of shunning the violators was not that they had a different religion, it was because there is such a thing as a Covenant, and it is no trifle to be played with. The Covenant – combined with the policy that we do not use violence or in any way discriminate against the legitimate rights of the covenant-breakers, but simply leave them to God – is the greatest protection for our children and great-great-grandchildren from the curse of sectarian strife that has clouded the undoubted light of both Christianity and Islam. The blood on the robes of past religions comes not just from their lack of an explicit written covenant identifying the successor to the Founder and his authorities, but also from the lack of a clear principle that sectarian tendencies must be combatted only by shunning those who form sects.

  20. RonPrice said

    I found this thread, indeed, it is more like a carpet than a thread, a deepening program unto itself…and I thank Sean McGlinn(that’s not Sean McGlinn, Real Estate Market Analyst, Lithia Motors, Inc nor is it the Osteopathic Physician) for his work of many years. For readers of this thread who might like my attempt to link some of the content of this discussion with the new Baha’i paradigm, the new culture of learning and growth, go to Baha’i Library Online and have a read of what is essentially a tangential discussion, a book, by Ron Price. It is entitled: REFLECTIONS ON A CULTURE OF LEARNING AND GROWTH:Community and Individual Paradigm Shifts: A Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic and Very Personal Context. Reflections and understandings regarding the culture of learning and growth and the accompanying paradigm shift in the Fourth and Fifth Epochs of the Formative Age: 1986 to 2021 and the Second Epoch(1963-2021) of ‘Abdul-Baha’s Divine Plan.

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