Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi – 3

Contains 2 postings,
updated January 8 2011,
added a quote August 2013
Updated July 25, 2015.
Updated May 20119: the four or five teachers

January 6, 2011

> 1. “I wish to add and say that whatever letters are sent in my behalf
> from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no
> exception whatever to this rule.
> 2. “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.

“less” authority is a puzzle. I wonder whether the question that was asked
related to the authority of these letters over NSA action, that is, as
expressions of the Guardian’s task as Head of the Faith sending
instructions to the NSAs, or was it a question about the interpretation
of the teachings – the secretaries acting as channels for the Guardian’s
role as Guardian per se? I don’t see any reason an interpretation of the
teachings should not be conveyed in a letter on behalf (though this was
clearly not the normal practice) but I do see a problem with such an
interpretation having less authority. The interpretations of the Guardian
are statements of truth, how can there be a lesser or greater grade in
that? Perhaps by being less comprehensive?

The problem we face is to understand what was in the Guardian’s mind. How
did he want these letters to be read? For him, that was not a big issue,
since if something was misread or misapplied by the Bahais he could simply
correct that. Had he had a successor, the problem would also have been
contained in the same way. But for us it’s a problem. We are obliged to
make a distinction, without much guidance as to what distinction he

If we take the full text of your second quote, it becomes apparent
that he was quite upset when Bahais failed to distinguish between his
words and those of his secretaries (a failure that has become almost de
today!) :

I wish to call your attention to certain things in “Principles of
Baha’i Administration” which has just reached the Guardian; although the
material is good, he feels that the complete lack of quotation marks is
very misleading. His own words, the words of his various secretaries, even
the Words of Baha’u’llah Himself, are all lumped together as one text.
This is not only not reverent in the case of Baha’u’llah’s Words, but
misleading. 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. He feels that in any future edition this fault
should be remedied, any quotations from Baha’u’llah or the Master plainly
attributed to them, and the words of the Guardian clearly differentiated
from those of his secretaries.

(Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i
Community, p. 259)

= = = =

As for your first quote (“…whatever letters are sent in my behalf from Haifa
are all read and approved by me before mailing..), I note first of all
that this is an intended procedure. It does not make it impossible that a
letter might have been sent without being read and approved, it is not
impossible that the rejected version was put in the envelope and the
corrected version in the rubbish by mistake, for example. To err is human.
Second, the statement is circular: a letter not read and approved is not
in fact a letter on behalf of the Guardian, one that is read and approved
is written on the Guardian’s behalf. This does not assure us that every
letter said to be on behalf, is in fact that. The decisions as to what is
a letter written on behalf are made by the editors of the collections of
his letters, or by the House of Justice or research department when they
are quoting individual letters not already published. There is no reason
to think that the secretaries, or the editors, are divinely preserved from
making a mistake in such matters. In the same way, Abdu’l-Baha is the
authorized interpreter of the Bahai teachings, but not everything
attributed to Abdu’l-Baha is in fact from him. Text critical work does not
in any way constitute an attack on the authority of the supposed
originator of the text!

For most [list] members, this is probably redundant comment, since we are
all used to using a source-critical approach, with a constant awareness
that the text as it comes to us, and the framing around it (“this is a
letter written on behalf of the Guardian”), both have a history, perhaps
an evolution, but in any case a context. But I think it’s worth restating
the obvious, because XX (BB to UHJ, Nov 3 2010) has given to the
UHJ and to this list a flabergasting misrepresentation of my text-critical
work on the letters written on behalf of the Guardian, both as to its
intent and its results – which thus far indicate that there are
text-critical issues with only a tiny portion of the letters. That is, we
have the assurance that the intended procedure outlined in this quote was
followed 99.9% or more of the time. On the other hand, my text critical
work on things attributed to Abdu’l-Baha shows that a good deal of the
material from the early American Bahai community is questionable, and
sometimes demonstrably inauthentic.

To move from pious hope to certain knowledge, we have to go through
the valley of questions. It is regrettable but inevitable that those
who chose to remain on the side of piety, misunderstand the journey, and
despise the results. Yet substantiated results will in the long term serve
the Bahai community better than hopeful generalizations


Follow-up, January 8

[In relation to the question of whether letters with a postscript in the Guardian’s own hand should be privileged over those without]

I think it is important to distinguish two quite different questions: the first is text-critical. Did the editor correctly designate a letter as being written on behalf of the Guardian? A postscript in the Guardian’s hand, or a reference in the text such as “he has asked me to say…” is strong evidence that it was written on behalf. On the other hand, “he feels that…” is not so strong, since a secretary writing personal correspondence would doubtless report a great deal of what the Guardian said and did. Complete letters give us more certainty than short extracts, because if we see a list of different points being responded to, it is obvious that the secretary is writing in an official capacity. In fact, where we have a complete letter, I think there is scarcely any case in which there is cause for doubt (although, I still feel happier if I have two letters on the topic, just in case).

The second question arises from the fact that the Guardian wanted us to distinguish between letters written on his behalf, and his own letters, and objected quite strongly to their being “lumped together” : they are “authoritative,” and “their authority is less.” If we are once assured that a letter is indeed written on behalf of the Guardian, there is no reason to think that a letter with a postscript has more authority than one lacking a postscript.

The first is a question of fact, the second a question of the legitimacy and rank of the various Sources of Bahai teachings and practice


The exact status which Shoghi Effendi has intended the friends to give to those communications he sends to individual believers is explained in the following statement written through his secretary to the National Assembly on November 16, 1932:

As regards Shoghi Effendi’s letters to the individual Bahá’ís, he is always very careful not to contradict himself. He has also said that whenever he has something of importance to say, he invariably communicates it to the National Spiritual Assembly or in his general letters. His personal letters to individual friends are only for their personal benefit and even though he does not want to forbid their publication, he does not wish them to be used too much by the Bahá’í News. Only letters with special significance should be published there.
(On Behalf of Shoghi Effendi, in Extracts from the USBN)

Update, July 25, 2015.

I have just discovered this, in one of the issues of Bahai News which has not yet been included in Ocean:

USBN December 1935, p1:

The Guardian’s Letters to Individual Believers

“With reference to the N.S.A.’s suggestion regarding the publication in BAHA’I NEWS of passages from the Guardian’s letters to individual believers, he wishes me to express his approval of the plan conceived by your Assembly in this matter.”

(Note: This plan is that when the National Spiritual Assembly receives a copy of a letter from the Guardian to an individual believer containing statements of general bearing and importance, the Assembly will refer these statements back to the Guardian, and when approved by him will publish them in BAHA’I NEWS. This plan was brought to the Guardian’s attention in the light of his instruction, published a year or two ago, that his letters to individuals were not to be extensively published).

Update, May 2019.
In his Ridvan message (April 21) to the Bahais of North America for 1933 –the letter known as “American and the Most Great Peace” and published in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, Shoghi Effendi wrote:

It was ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself, His most intimate associates testify, Who, on more than one occasion, intimated that the establishment of His Father’s Faith in the North American continent ranked as the most outstanding among the threefold aims which, as He conceived it, constituted the principal objective of His ministry. It was He Who, in the heyday of His life and almost immediately after His Father’s ascension, conceived the idea of inaugurating His mission by enlisting the inhabitants of so promising a country under the banner of Baha’u’llah. … It is for the future historian to appraise the value of the mission of each of the four [or five] chosen messengers of ‘Abdu’l-Baha who, in rapid succession, were dispatched by Him to pacify and reinvigorate that troubled community. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 76 & 82)

The reason for the [or five] in this quote is that it is not clear what Shoghi Effendi originally wrote. Either he wrote four and there was a mistake in typesetting the copy that was distributed to the American Bahais as a booklet, or he wrote five and later thought better of it, as we will see.

A few months later, the editor of the Bahai News magazine reported (on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly for North America):

The Guardian’s general letter published under the title of “America and the Most Great Peace,” contains two passages which many believers have wished to be explained. The National Assembly therefore requested Shoghi Effendi to state what were the three aims which were the principal objectives of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s ministry, and also to give the names of the five teachers sent to America by the Master.

In a letter dated December 14, 1933, the Guardian through his secretary [H. Rabbani] has replied to these two questions as follows:

“As to the three aims which Shoghi Effendi has stated in his “America and the Most Great Peace” to have been the chief objectives of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ministry, it should be pointed out that the first was the establishment of the Cause in America. The erection of the Bahá’í Temple in Ishqabad, and the building on Mt. Carmel of a mausoleum marking the resting-place of the Báb, were the two remaining ones.

“The following is the list of the five teachers whom the Master sent to America in order to spread the Cause. They were not all Persians. As a matter of fact, the first one was a Syrian. Their names are as follows: Khayru’llah, Abdu’l-Karim, Haji Mirza Hasan, Mirza Abdu’l-Fadl and Mirza Asadu’llah.”

The inclusion of Khayru’llah in this list led to some objections, because of his later history but also because he had been alluded to earlier in Shoghi Effendi’s message, and could hardly be one of the group of four or five teachers alluded to later. The same secretary then corrected the previous letter:


Concerning the list of Baha’i teachers sent to America by the Master, I wish to make it clear that the statement I made on that point on behalf of the Guardian in my communication (see article entitled “Explanation of Passages in ‘America and the Most Great Peace'”, published in BAHA’I NEWS February, 1934.- Editor [page 5]) is, due to a misunderstanding on my part, incorrect. Khayru’llah could not have been one of these teachers, since these were sent to the United States in order to remedy the situation which Khayru’llah himself had created through his treacherous actions against the Master and the Cause. A careful perusal of the paragraph on page 14 in “America and the Most Great Peace” makes that point indubitably clear. As to the five teachers referred to in that epistle of the Guardian, there must have been a typographical error, and instead of five we should, therefore, read only four. (signed) H. Rabbani.

See also: “Letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi
Letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi – 2
anything Shoghi Effendi said is Baha’i doctrine
Commentary on S. Fazel and Khazeh Fananapazir’s “Some interpretive principles in the Bahá’í Writings”
Abdu’l-Baha and Emanuel Swedenborg

Short link:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: