Regarding the method to be adopted for the election of the National Spiritual Assemblies, it is clear that the text of the Beloved’s Testament gives us no indication as to the manner in which these Assemblies are to be elected. In one of His earliest Tablets, however, addressed to a friend in Persia, the following is expressly recorded:—
“At whatever time all the beloved of God in each country appoint their delegates, and these in turn elect their representatives, and these representatives elect a body, that body shall be regarded as the Supreme Baytu’l-’Adl (Universal House of Justice).”
These words clearly indicate that a three-stage election has been provided by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for the formation of the International House of Justice, and as it is explicitly provided in His Will and Testament that the “Secondary House of Justice (i.e., National Assemblies) must elect the members of the Universal One,” it is obvious that the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies will have to be indirectly elected by the body of the believers in their respective provinces. In view of these complementary instructions the principle, set forth in my letter of March 12th, 1923, has been established requiring the believers (the beloved of God) in every country to elect a certain number of delegates who, in turn, will elect their national representatives (Secondary House of Justice or National Spiritual Assembly) whose sacred obligation and privilege will be to elect in time God’s Universal House of Justice.
Should the appointing of the delegates be made a part of the functions of local Spiritual Assemblies, who are already elected bodies, the principle of a four-stage election would be introduced which would be at variance with the provisions explicitly laid down in the Master’s Tablet. On the other hand, were the local Spiritual Assemblies, the number of whose members is strictly confined to nine, to elect directly the members of the National Spiritual Assembly—thus maintaining the principle of a three-stage election—all Bahá’í localities, which must necessarily differ in numerical strength, would then have to share equally in the election of the National Spiritual Assembly—a practice which would be contrary to fairness and justice. Moreover, the central principle guiding for the present the administration of the Cause has been to make the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assemblies as independent as possible in the conduct of such affairs as fall within their province, and to lessen the hampering influence of any institution within their jurisdiction that might, whether directly or indirectly, impair their authority and prestige.
I would also strongly urge the members of every incoming National Spiritual Assembly to take all necessary steps to insure that every local Assembly throughout America, without any exception whatsoever, should immediately after its election send the complete list of its members together with the full address of its secretary to the National Secretary, who in turn will forward them to me directly, enclosing his own address as well as the list of the members of the National Spiritual Assembly. It would also be extremely helpful, should actual circumstances permit, to devise with the wholehearted assistance of every local Assembly ways and means for the compilation of an authoritative, up-to-date, and exhaustive list of recognized believers in America, supplemented by the full address of each believer’s permanent residence—this list to be continually revised according to every change affecting the residence and number of such believers. This would be particularly advisable in view of the permanent residence of isolated believers in various parts of the country, as well as of those who form parts of groups as yet numerically too small for the formation of a local Spiritual Assembly.
However desirable these steps may be, it is evident that they are secondary in their importance and urgency to the pressing and ever-increasing issues that vitally affect the spread and the consolidation of the work which you are called upon to perform, and which it is my privilege to assist in and serve. I am enclosing a preliminary list of Bahá’í centers throughout the world, exclusive of Persia, which, though inadequate, may still, I trust, be of some help to you. I would welcome any additions or corrections you might be able to make and hope it will evolve into a valuable section of the contemplated Bahá’í Year Book.
Once again the hand of divine power has gathered together the chosen representatives of the American believers, assembled this time amid the pleasant surroundings of a blest and beloved spot, to deliberate upon the most effective measures that will insure the advancement of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. I feel it a pleasure and privilege to offer you these few thoughts as my humble contribution to the proceedings of your annual Convention.
May I at the outset reaffirm my feelings of gratitude and keen appreciation for the eminent share which the friends in America, individually as well as by their collective efforts, have contributed to ease the burden of responsibility and care that has so often oppressed my heart. Your steadfastness, your unsparing devotion; your self-sacrifice in upholding and fostering the institutions of the Cause; the notable advance you have achieved in the coordination of your activities; the remarkable solicitude you have shown, and the magnificent response you have made on behalf of the oppressed and needy among your brethren; the measures you have initiated, the hindrances you have removed and the means and methods you have perfected—these and others beside have established you in the confidence, the esteem and the admiration of all the Bahá’í world. I personally appreciate and am thankful for your unfailing supplications and special prayers on my behalf. I am deeply touched by your expressions of unwavering faith, of loyalty and affection, and fully reciprocate your brotherly sentiments and your keen desire and readiness to collaborate with me more closely and effectively than ever before.
And now regarding this forthcoming Convention, I feel that the dominating purpose inspiring the assembled friends, delegates and visitors alike, should be a two-fold one. The first is a challenge to the individual, the second a collective responsibility. The one seeks to reinforce the motive power of our spiritual activities, the second aims at raising the standard of administrative efficiency so vitally needed at this advanced stage of our work. We should first and foremost endeavor by every conceivable means to revitalize our precious Cause, rudely shaken by the constant vicissitudes attending the outward departure of a vigilant and gracious Master. Our next object should be to seek to approach, through more intimate association, fuller and more frequent consultations, and a closer familiarity with the character, the mission and the teachings of the Cause, that standard of excellence which should characterize the cooperative efforts of Bahá’í Communities in every land.
High aims and pure motives, however laudable in themselves, will surely not suffice if unsupported by measures that are practicable and methods that are sound. Wealth of sentiment, abundance of good-will and effort, will prove of little avail if we should fail to exercise discrimination and restraint and neglect to direct their flow along the most profitable channels. The unfettered freedom of the individual should be tempered with mutual consultation and sacrifice, and the spirit of initiative and enterprise should be reinforced by a deeper realization of the supreme necessity for concerted action and a fuller devotion to the common weal.
It would be impossible at this stage to ignore the indispensability or to overestimate the unique significance of the institution of the National Spiritual Assembly—the pivot round which revolve the activities of the believers throughout the American continent. Supreme is their position, grave their responsibilities, manifold and arduous their duties. How great the privilege, how delicate the task of the assembled delegates whose function it is to elect such national representatives as would by their record of service ennoble and enrich the annals of the Cause! If we but turn our gaze to the high qualifications of the members of Bahá’í Assemblies, as enumerated in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets, we are filled with feelings of unworthiness and dismay, and would feel truly disheartened but for the comforting thought that if we rise to play nobly our part every deficiency in our lives will be more than compensated by the all-conquering spirit of His grace and power. Hence it is incumbent upon the chosen delegates to consider without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience. May the incoming National Spiritual Assembly—the privileged and chosen servants of the Cause—immortalize their term of stewardship by deeds of loving service, deeds that will redound to the honor, the glory and the power of the Most Great Name.
I would also earnestly entreat all the delegates at this coming Convention, and through them I appeal to the larger body of believers whom they represent, to ever bear in mind the supreme injunction of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, to teach unceasingly until the “head cornerstone of the foundation” of the Cause of God is firmly established in every heart. Let those whose time, resources and means allow, travel throughout the length and breadth of that vast continent, let them scatter to the most distant regions of the earth and, fired with enthusiasm and detachment, hand on the torch of God’s undying flame to the waiting multitudes of a sadly-stricken world.
One word more in conclusion. Let the West, and particularly the Great Republic of the New World, where a quarter of a century ago Bahá’u’lláh’s Banner was firmly implanted, realize that upon it now rests the responsibility of achieving the universal recognition of the Bahá’í Faith, of fulfilling ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s fondest hopes.
Persia, the cradle of an unfolding world civilization, is still bereft of her freedom, sunk in ignorance, a prey to contending policies and factions, beset on one hand by the powers of orthodoxy and sectarian fanaticism and assailed on the other by the forces of materialism and unbelief. In her evil plight she is radiantly confident that the Flame she had kindled in the world will, in the fullness of time, blaze forth in the heart of the mighty West and shed redeeming illumination upon the silent sufferers of a distracted country. Will it be America, will it be one of the nations of Europe, that will seize the torch of Divine Guidance from Persia’s fettered hands and with it set the western world aflame? May your Convention, by its spirit, its resolutions and its accomplishments, give to that country’s urgent call a noble and decisive answer.
The numerous communications which your distinguished Secretary has lately addressed on your behalf to the Greatest Holy Leaf and myself, have been eagerly perused and their contents carefully noted. The news they imparted and the spirit they revealed have caused us both genuine satisfaction, and have served to intensify the feelings of joyous confidence, of pride and gratitude with which we have greeted the inauguration of your term of service.
The notable advance achieved by this year’s memorable Convention is, I am certain, attributable in no small measure to the energy, the thoroughness, the insight and the loving-kindness that have characterized in an unprecedented degree the activities of the outgoing National Spiritual Assembly. I am confident that the work of America’s newly elected representatives, so splendidly and auspiciously begun, will further consolidate the labors of the past, will resolve to a great extent the problems and perplexities of the present, and open up fresh fields of future achievements and service.
I rejoice to learn that ways and means have been found to enable the National Secretary, who discharges in such an exemplary manner the manifold and exacting duties of a highly responsible position, to devote all his time to the pursuit of so meritorious a task. I am fully conscious of the privations and sacrifice which the choice of this arduous work must involve for him, as well as for his devoted and selfless companion; I cannot but admire and extol their heroic efforts; and wish to assure them both of my continued prayers for the speedy fruition of their earnest endeavors.
Regarding the very delicate and complex question of ascertaining the qualifications of a true believer, I cannot in this connection emphasize too strongly the supreme necessity for the exercise of the utmost discretion, caution and tact, whether it be in deciding for ourselves as to who may be regarded a true believer or in disclosing to the outside world such considerations as may serve as a basis for such a decision. I would only venture to state very briefly and as adequately as present circumstances permit the principal factors that must be taken into consideration before deciding whether a person may be regarded a true believer or not. Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Bahá’í Cause, as set forth in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved’s sacred Will; and close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present day Bahá’í administration throughout the world—these I conceive to be the fundamental and primary considerations that must be fairly, discreetly and thoughtfully ascertained before reaching such a vital decision. Any attempt at further analysis and elucidation will, I fear, land us in barren discussions and even grave controversies that would prove not only futile but even detrimental to the best interests of a growing Cause. I would therefore strongly urge those who are called upon to make such a decision to approach this highly involved and ever-recurring problem with the spirit of humble prayer, and earnest consultation, and to refrain from drawing rigidly the line of demarcation except on such occasions when the interests of the Cause absolutely demand it.
In connection with the annual holding of the Bahá’í Convention and Congress, I feel that although such a representative body need not be convened necessarily every year, yet it is highly desirable, in view of the unique functions it fulfills in promoting harmony and good-will, in removing misunderstandings and in enhancing the prestige of the Cause, that the National Spiritual Assembly should exert itself to gather together annually the elected representatives of the American believers. It would in some ways be obviously convenient and eminently desirable though not absolutely essential, if the National Spiritual Assembly could arrange that the holding of such a Congress should synchronize with the time at which the national elections are renewed, and that both events should take place, if not on the first of Riḍván, at least during the twelve joyous days of what may be justly regarded as the foremost Bahá’í Festival. Apart from the local elections, which universally are to be renewed on the 21st day of April, it is entirely left to the discretion of the National Spiritual Assembly to decide, after having given due consideration to the above mentioned observations, on whatever time and place the Bahá’í Convention as well as the annual elections are to be held. Were the National Spiritual Assembly to decide, after mature deliberations, to omit the holding of the Bahá’í Convention and Congress in a given year, then they could, only in such a case, devise ways and means to insure that the annual election of the National Spiritual Assembly should be held by mail, provided it can be conducted with sufficient thoroughness, efficiency and dispatch. It would also appear to me unobjectionable to enable and even to require in the last resort such delegates as cannot possibly undertake the journey to the seat of the Bahá’í Convention to send their votes, for the election of the National Spiritual Assembly only, by mail to the National Secretary, as in my view the advantages of such a procedure outweigh the considerations referred to in your letter. It should, however, be made clear to every elected delegate—who should be continually reminded—that it is a sacred responsibility and admittedly preferable to attend if possible in person the sessions of the Convention, to take an active part in all its proceedings, and to acquaint his fellow-workers on his return with the accomplishments, the decisions and the aspirations of the assembled representatives of the American believers.
I am eagerly looking forward to your sending me in manuscript form the projected Bahá’í Year Book, that I may be enabled to contribute my share in rendering it as comprehensive, as attractive, and as authoritative as possible. I strongly advise you to combine in a judicious manner the two methods outlined in this connection in your letter of September 2, 1925. A short, concise and forceful account of the primary objects, as well as of the principles underlying the worldwide administration of the Cause, together with a brief description of various features of the present day administration of its activities, supplemented with a not-too-detailed survey of the actual accomplishments and plans evolved in the current year, would serve to acquaint the outsider with the purpose and the achievements of the Cause, and provide sufficient material that would be edifying and helpful to the active believers whether in the East or in the West.…
The Greatest Holy Leaf desires me to convey in her name to the esteemed members of the Green Acre Fellowship the expression of her cordial thanks and sincere appreciation in having been made a life member of the said Fellowship. She assures them of her prayers for the success of this noble institution as well as for the spiritual advancement of its individual members.
Recent developments in the Holy Land have led various organizations in the Jewish world to contemplate seriously the early possibility of transferring to Palestine’s sacred soil the mortal remains of certain prominent founders and leaders of Jewish thought, and Mount Carmel, which next to ‘Akká’s Most Holy Shrine is the most cherished object of Bahá’í veneration, has been cited on various occasions as a permanent and most befitting burial ground for their illustrious dead. Surely the Bahá’ís of the world, ever on the alert and with an eye to the future, will, no matter how pressed by financial obligations, arise while there is yet time to contribute each his share in securing for posterity such land as lies in close proximity to the Holy Shrine—an area the acquisition of which in time will prove indispensable if the sublime vision of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is to be realized. I appeal to you, and through you to every earnest and conscientious believer, to safeguard in particular the land extending southward from these Shrines which now, alas! is gravely exposed to the assaults of covetous and speculating interests. I am loth to press further claims on friends who have displayed so magnificent a spirit of self-sacrifice on several occasions in the past, but I feel the urge of a sacred and impelling responsibility to call your attention to what I conceive to be one of the worldwide issues of the greatest moment requiring a prompt, generous and collective response. I may add that whatever land is purchased will be registered in the name of the contributor, and I would therefore request every contributing believer to forward together with his donation such power of attorney as will legally empower me to transact in his name and on his behalf the purchase of the plot he desires to acquire. It would be desirable to forward small contributions to the National Spiritual Assembly, who will then decide upon the manner in which the transaction should be conducted.
The compilation of newspaper clippings with regard to recent persecutions in Persia which has been sent by our dear brother, Mr. H. Holley, to the Greatest Holy Leaf has been forwarded to the National Spiritual Assembly of Persia, that they may witness for themselves and share with the rank and file of the Persian believers the results of the extensive and vigorous campaign so promptly undertaken on their behalf by their sympathetic brethren in the West. It grieves me to inform you that this sad tale of barbarism and unrestrained aggression on the property, the lives and the honor of the heroic sufferers in that land is still continuing to reach our ears, and the campaign of obstruction, of intimidation and plunder is, but for short periods of comparative lull, being systematically pursued with unabated vigor. I am certain that the members of the National Spiritual Assembly, fully alive to the uncertainty, the confusion and the seriousness of the present situation, will seize the first opportunity to redress as much as it lies in their power the interminable grievances that are being inflicted upon harassed yet law-abiding citizens.
I rejoice to learn of the prompt and well-considered measures you have undertaken to evolve, in conjunction with all local Assemblies and groups, a wise and effective plan for the contribution of America’s befitting share in response to the appeal lately addressed to the American believers regarding the work of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. Surely the great company of eager and sympathizing believers throughout the East will, as they increasingly witness the evidences of a revival of activity along this line, arise to lend a helping hand to this vast endeavor. They will not fail to extend their support in alleviating the burden that is now borne so joyously and gratefully by their younger brethren in North America. I shall myself do all in my power to hasten the fruition of your self-sacrificing labors.
The sad and sudden crisis that has arisen in connection with the ownership of Bahá’u’lláh’s sacred house in Baghdád has sent a thrill of indignation and dismay throughout the whole of the Bahá’í world. Houses that have been occupied by Bahá’u’lláh for well nigh the whole period of His exile in ‘Iráq; ordained by Him as the chosen and sanctified object of Bahá’í pilgrimage in future; magnified and extolled in countless Tablets and Epistles as the sacred center “round which shall circle all peoples and kindreds of the earth”—lie now, due to fierce intrigue and ceaseless fanatical opposition, at the mercy of the declared enemies of the Cause.
I have instantly communicated with every Bahá’í center in both East and West, and urgently requested the faithful followers of the Faith in every land to protest vehemently against this glaring perversion of justice, to assert firmly and courteously the spiritual rights of the Bahá’í Community to the ownership of this venerated house, to plead for British fairness and justice, and to pledge their unswerving determination to insure the security of this hallowed spot.
Conscious of the fact that this property has been occupied by Bahá’í authorized representatives for an uninterrupted period of not less than thirty years, and having successfully won their case at the Justice of Peace and the Court of First Instance, the Bahá’ís the world over cannot believe that the high sense of honor and fairness which inspires the British Administration of ‘Iráq will ever tolerate such grave miscarriage of justice. They confidently appeal to the public opinion of the world for the defense and protection of their legitimate rights now sorely trampled under the feet of relentless enemies.
Widespread and effective publicity along these lines, in well-conceived and carefully worded terms, is strongly recommended for it will undoubtedly serve to facilitate the solution of this delicate and perplexing problem.
Having exerted ourselves to the utmost of our ability let us rest assured in the power of the Lord, who keepeth watch over His house, and who will, no matter how dark present prospects appear, assure for generations yet unborn His cherished and holy edifice. I shall acquaint you with every development of the case, and will advise you as to the measures that should be taken whether we decide to institute fresh proceedings or to appeal to higher legal authorities in London.
In connection with the important step that has been taken for the eventual inclusion of Green Acre Fellowship within the orbit of the activities of the American National Spiritual Assembly, I hope and pray that this new privilege and added responsibility will prove highly beneficial in its results, both to Green Acre itself and the general interests of the Cause in America. In a separate communication addressed to the Chairman of the said Fellowship, our dearly-beloved and self-sacrificing brother, Mr. W. Randall, I will express my warm approval of this constructive step, and my ardent hopes for the quicker unfolding and fuller expansion under the fostering care of the National Spiritual Assembly, of Green Acre’s unique and sublime mission in life. I shall follow in this connection with the keenest interest the course of your activities in accordance with the policy outlined in your letter of October 14th, and feel that the greatest stress must be laid upon the necessity of exemplifying in a most liberal and practical manner the driving power hidden in this Divine Revelation, rather than upon the idle reiteration of a set of principles, however exalted and unique in their character. May the National Fund so flourish as to enable its Trustees to undertake such measures as will eloquently testify to a sorely stricken humanity the healing power of God’s Faith.
May I remind you regarding the situation in San Francisco that no two independent Bahá’í centers can possibly be recognized in the same city, and that the center which bears my name should act in all matters only with the full consent and approval of the San Francisco Spiritual Assembly.
Concerning the election of alternate members to the National Spiritual Assembly, I feel that only the nine original members of the National Spiritual Assembly are entitled to vote, whereas such alternate members as may be elected should be asked to fill vacancies only in a consultative capacity and not be entitled to vote. They should not be regarded as part of the quorum (i.e., five out of the nine original members) which is necessary for the transaction of the business of the National Assembly. All secondary matters that do not affect the principle outlined are left to the discretion of the National Spiritual Assemblies who will decide according to the exigencies of their respective circumstances.
It is with feelings of overwhelming sorrow that I communicate to you the news of yet another loss which the Almighty, in His inscrutable wisdom, has chosen to inflict upon our beloved Cause. On the 22nd of November, 1925, that memorable and sacred day in which the Bahá’ís of the Orient celebrated the twin Festivals of the Declaration of the Báb and the birthday of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Dr. John E. Esslemont passed on to the Abhá Kingdom. His end was as swift as it was unexpected. Suffering from the effects of a chronic and insidious disease, he fell at last a victim to the inevitable complications that ensued, the fatal course of which neither the efforts of vigilant physicians nor the devoted cares of his many friends could possibly deflect.
He bore his sufferings with admirable fortitude, with calm resignation and courage. Though convinced that his ailment would never henceforth forsake him, yet many a time he revealed a burning desire that the friends residing in the Holy Land should, while visiting the Shrines, implore the All-merciful to prolong his days that he may bring to a fuller completion his humble share of service to the Threshold of Bahá’u’lláh. To this noble request all hearts warmly responded. But this was not to be. His close association with my work in Haifa, in which I had placed the fondest hopes, was suddenly cut short. His book,1 however—an abiding monument to his pure intention—will, alone, inspire generations yet unborn to tread the path of truth and service as steadfastly and as unostentatiously as was trodden by its beloved author. The Cause he loved so well, he served even unto his last day with exemplary faith and unstinted devotion. His tenacity of faith, his high integrity, his self-effacement, his industry and painstaking labors were traits of a character the noble qualities of which will live and live forever after him. To me personally he was the warmest of friends, a trusted counsellor, an indefatigable collaborator, a lovable companion.
With tearful eyes I supplicate at the Threshold of Bahá’u’lláh—and request you all to join—in my ardent prayers, for the fuller unfolding in the realms beyond of a soul that has already achieved so high a spiritual standing in this world. For by the beauty of his character, by his knowledge of the Cause, by the conspicuous achievements of his book, he has immortalized his name, and by sheer merit deserved to rank as one of the Hands of the Cause of God.
He has been laid to rest in the heart of that beautifully situated Bahá’í burial ground at the foot of Carmel, close to the mortal remains of that venerable soul, Ḥájí Mírzá Vakilu’d-Dawlih, the illustrious cousin of the Báb and chief builder of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of Ishqábád. Pilgrims visiting his grave from far and near will, with pride and gratitude, do honor to a name that adorned the annals of an Immortal Cause.