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The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

In this “document of momentous and incalculable significance,” writes Hasan M. Balyuzi, there are three provisions which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá created for protection of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh after His passing.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote His Will and Testament, which is in three parts, at different times during the seven-year period (1901-1908) of His incarceration within the city walls of ‘Akká. Characterized by the Guardian of the Faith as ‘this supreme, this infallible Organ for the accomplishment of a Divine Purpose’, and as ‘an Instrument which may be viewed as the Charter of the New World Order which is at once the glory and the promise of this most great Dispensation’, the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is manifestly a document of momentous and incalculable significance.

It is not proposed here to scrutinize it closely. Much has been, much will be written in an effort to elucidate its far-reaching implications, for it is the founding Charter of the Administrative Order of Bahá’u’lláh – the ‘nucleus’ and ‘very pattern’ of the Order ‘destined to embrace in the fullness of time the whole of mankind’. In this document ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ‘unveiled’ the character of the Administrative Order of the Faith, ‘reaffirmed its basis, supplemented its principles, asserted its indispensability, and enumerated its chief institutions’.

But there are three provisions of the Will which must be mentioned here, for through them ‘Abdu’l-Bahá created infallible protection for the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh after His passing. Briefly, He appointed His successor, defended him from any possible challenge, and defined the means by which the Universal House of Justice, the supreme body instituted by Bahá’u’lláh, should come into being.

The Will opens with this majestic passage:

All praise to Him Who, by the Shield of His Covenant, hath guarded the Temple of His Cause from the darts of doubtfulness, Who by the Hosts of His Testament hath preserved the Sanctuary of His Most Beneficent Law and protected His Straight and Luminous Path, staying thereby the onslaught of the company of Covenant breakers, that have threatened to subvert His Divine Edifice; Who hath watched over His Mighty Stronghold and All-glorious Faith, through the aid of men whom the slander of the slanderer affecteth not, whom no earthly calling, glory, and power can turn aside from the Covenant of God and His Testament, established, firmly by His clear and manifest words, writ and revealed by His All-Glorious Pen and recorded in the Preserved Tablet.
Salutation and praise, blessing and glory rest upon that primal branch of the Divine and Sacred Lote-Tree, grown out, blest, tender, verdant, and flourishing from the Twin Holy Trees; the most wondrous, unique, and priceless pearl that doth gleam from out the Twin surging seas; upon the offshoots of the Tree of Holiness, the twigs of the Celestial Tree, they that in the Day of the Great Dividing have stood fast and firm in the Covenant; upon the Hands (pillars) of the Cause of God that have diffused widely the Divine Fragrances, declared His Proofs, proclaimed His Faith, published abroad His Law, detached themselves from all things but Him, stood for righteousness in this world, and kindled the Fire of the Love of God in the very hearts and souls of His servants; upon them that have believed, rested assured, stood steadfast in His Covenant, and followed the Light that after my passing shineth from the Dayspring of Divine Guidance – for behold! he is the blest and sacred bough that hath branched out from the Twin Holy Trees.A reference to Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, from both of Whom Shoghi Effendi was descended Well is it with him that seeketh the shelter of his shade that shadoweth all mankind.

Thus, at the very outset a succession was established and Bahá’ís knew to whom they had to turn. Later, in the first section of the Will and Testament, the successor was specifically named and his authority was elevated above that of all others:

O my loving friends! After the passing away of this wronged one, it is incumbent upon the Aghsán (Branches)Relatives of Bahá’u’lláh the Afnán (Twigs)Relatives of the Báb of the Sacred Lote-Tree, the Hands (pillars) of the Cause of God, and the loved ones of the Abhá Beauty to turn unto Shoghi Effendi – the youthful branch branched from the Two hallowed and sacred Lote-Trees and the fruit grown from the union of the Two offshoots of the Tree of Holiness – as he is the sign of God, the chosen branch, the guardian of the Cause of God, he unto whom all the Aghsán, the Afnán, the Hands of the Cause of God, and His loved ones must turn. …
The sacred and youthful branch, the guardian of the Cause of God as well as the Universal House of Justice, to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abhá Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of His Holiness, the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both)These terms refer to Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb respectively. Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God… It is incumbent upon the House of Justice, upon all the members of the Aghsán, the Afnán, the Hands of the Cause of God to show their obedience, submissiveness, and subordination unto the guardian of the Cause of God, to turn unto him and be lowly before him. …

It should be pondered that if the despotic ruler of the Ottoman Empire or any other adversary had terminated the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during the period in which the Will was written, the Head of the Faith would have been a child of about ten years of age. Shoghi Effendi was born in 1897 (sic).

Before specifically naming Shoghi Effendi the Guardian of the Cause of God, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá related the story of Mirzá Yahyá’s rebellion against Bahá’u’lláhSee H. M. Balyuzi, Edward Granville Browne and The Bahá’í Faith, for a full account. and then showed how and why His own half-brother Mirzá Muhammad-‘Alí, designated by Bahá’u’lláh in His Book of Testament as the Greater Branch, had forfeited his station and could not be the Head of the Faith:

O ye that stand fast and firm in the Covenant! The Center of Sedition, the Prime Mover of mischief, Mírzá Muhammad ‘Alí, hath passed out from under the shadow of the Cause, hath broken the Covenant, hath falsified the Holy Text, hath inflicted a grievous loss upon the true Faith of God, hath scattered His people, hath with bitter rancor endeavored to hurt ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and hath assailed with the utmost enmity this servant of the Sacred Threshold. Every dart he seized and hurled to pierce the breast of this wronged servant, no wound did he neglect to grievously inflict upon me, no venom did he spare but he poisoned therewith the life of this hapless one. I swear by the most holy Abhá Beauty and by the Light shining from His Holiness, the Exalted One (may my soul be a sacrifice for Their lowly servants), that because of this iniquity the dwellers in the Pavilion of the Abhá Kingdom have bewailed, the Celestial Concourse is lamenting…So grievous the deeds of this iniquitous person became that he struck with his axe at the root of the Blessed Tree, dealt a heavy blow at the Temple of the Cause of God, deluged with tears of blood the eyes of the loved ones of the Blessed Beauty, cheered and encouraged the enemies of the One True God, by his repudiation of the Covenant turned many a seeker after Truth aside from the Cause of God, revived the blighted hopes of Yahyá’s following, made himself detested, caused the enemies of the Greatest Name to become audacious and arrogant, put aside the firm and conclusive verses and sowed the seeds of doubt. Had not the promised aid of the Ancient Beauty been graciously vouchsafed at every moment to this one, unworthy though he be, he surely would have destroyed, nay exterminated the Cause of God and utterly subverted the Divine Edifice. But, praised be the Lord, the triumphant assistance of the Abhá Kingdom was received, the hosts of the Realm above hastened to bestow victory…Now, that the true Faith of God may be shielded and protected, His Law guarded and preserved and His Cause remain safe and secure, it is incumbent upon everyone to hold fast unto the Text of the clear and firmly established blessed verse, revealed about him…He (Bahá’u’lláh) sayeth, glorious and holy is His Word:—“My foolish loved ones have regarded him even as my partner, have kindled sedition in the land and they verily are of the mischief-makers.” Consider, how foolish are the people! They that have been in His (Bahá’u’lláh’s) Presence and beheld His Countenance, have nevertheless noised abroad such idle talk, until, exalted be His explicit words, He said:—“Should he for a moment pass out from under the shadow of the Cause, he surely shall be brought to naught. “Reflect! What stress He layeth upon one moment’s deviation: that is, were he to incline a hair’s breadth to the right or to the left, his deviation would be clearly established and his utter nothingness made manifest. …
What deviation can be greater than breaking the Covenant of God! What deviation can be greater than interpolating and falsifying the words and verses of the Sacred Text, even as testified and declared by Mírzá Badí’u’lláh! What deviation can be greater than calumniating the Center of the Covenant himself! What deviation can be more glaring than spreading broadcast false and foolish reports touching the Temple of God’s Testament! What deviation can be more grievous than decreeing the death of the Center of the Covenant…

‘Abdu’l-Bahá mentioned next the details of the intrigues of Mirzá Muhammad-‘Alí and his associates, intrigues which had led to the dispatch of a Commission of Enquiry from Istanbul, and concluded:

The Committee of Investigation hath approved and confirmed these calumnies of my brother and ill-wishers and submitted them to the presence of His Majesty the Sovereign. Now at this moment a fierce storm is raging around this prisoner who awaiteth, be it favorable or unfavorable, the gracious will of His Majesty, may the Lord aid him by His grace to be just. In whatsoever condition he may be, with absolute calm and quietness, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is ready for self-sacrifice and is wholly resigned and submitted to His Will. What transgression can be more abominable, more odious, more wicked than this!
In like manner, the focal Center of Hate, hath purposed to put ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to death and this is supported by the testimony written by Mírzá Shu’á’u’lláh himself and is here enclosed. …
In short, O ye beloved of the Lord! The Center of Sedition, Mírzá Muhammad ‘Alí, in accordance with the decisive words of God and by reason of his boundless transgression, hath grievously fallen and been cut off from the Holy Tree. Verily, we wronged them not, but they have wronged themselves!

Despite a thorough exposition of the evil deeds of the violators of the Covenant, in the second part of the Will and Testament, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered a prayer for them. “The breakers of the Covenant are consigned to the wrath of God, but for these same people, the contemptible enemies of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, there is only this”:

I call upon Thee, O Lord my God! with my tongue and with all my heart, not to requite them for their cruelty and their wrong-doings, their craft and their mischief, for they are foolish and ignoble and know not what they do. They discern not good from evil, neither do they distinguish right from wrong, nor justice from injustice. They follow their own desires and walk in the footsteps of the most imperfect and foolish amongst them. O my Lord! Have mercy upon them, shield them from all afflictions in these troubled times and grant that all trials and hardships may be the lot of this Thy servant that hath fallen into this darksome pit. Single me out for every woe and make me a sacrifice for all Thy loved ones. O Lord, Most High! May my soul, my life, my being, my spirit, my all be offered up for them. O God, my God! Lowly, suppliant and fallen upon my face, I beseech Thee with all the ardor of my invocation to pardon whosoever hath hurt me, forgive him that hath conspired against me and offended me, and wash away the misdeeds of them that have wrought injustice upon me. Vouchsafe unto them Thy goodly gifts, give them joy, relieve them from sorrow, grant them peace and prosperity, give them Thy bliss and pour upon them Thy bounty.
Thou art the Powerful, the Gracious, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting!

And that prayer is immediately followed by these words:

O dearly beloved friends! I am now in very great danger and the hope of even an hour’s life is lost to me. I am thus constrained to write these lines for the protection of the Cause of God, the preservation of His Law, the safeguarding of His Word and the safety of His Teachings. By the Ancient Beauty! This wronged one hath in no wise borne nor doth he bear a grudge against any one; towards none doth he entertain any ill-feeling and uttereth no word save for the good of the world. My supreme obligation, however, of necessity, prompteth me to guard and preserve the Cause of God. …

And this is the conclusion of the second part of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will, written, as the above words testify, at the height of crisis both for Himself and for the Cause of God:

O God, my God! I call Thee, Thy Prophets and Thy Messengers, Thy Saints and Thy Holy Ones, to witness that I have declared conclusively Thy Proofs unto Thy loved ones and set forth clearly all things unto them, that they may watch over Thy Faith, guard Thy Straight Path and protect Thy Resplendent Law. Thou art, verily, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise!

It should be noted that the authority of the Universal House of Justice is not derived from the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. That authority was conferred by Bahá’u’lláh. But the Will of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá clarified its station and instituted the electorate which would choose its members.

And now, concerning the House of Justice which God hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error, it must be elected by universal suffrage, that is, by the believers. Its members must be manifestations of the fear of God and daysprings of knowledge and understanding, must be steadfast in God’s faith and the well-wishers of all mankind. By this House is meant the Universal House of Justice, that is, in all countries a secondary House of Justice must be instituted, and these secondary Houses of Justice must elect the members of the Universal one. Unto this body all things must be referred. It enacteth all ordinances and regulations that are not to be found in the explicit Holy Text. By this body all the difficult problems are to be resolved…

Just as provisions concerning the Guardian of the Faith are included in the three sections of the Will, so, too, the authority of the Universal House of Justice is, in each part, asserted and underlined. The extract just quoted comes from the first part; here are extracts from parts two and three:

Unto the Most Holy Book every one must turn, and all that is not expressly recorded therein must be referred to the Universal House of Justice. That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the truth and the purpose of God Himself. …
All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error.

The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá constitutes the “indissoluble link” between the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and the universal Order which it is the purpose of that Revelation to promote. It is the very Charter of that Order and compels the most persistent and earnest study of all who seek to understand the destiny of mankind in this age. In the words of the Guardian of the Faith, the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is “His greatest legacy to posterity” and “the brightest emanation of His mind”.

The counsel contained in these lines, from the first part of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Testament, illumines the way through centuries unborn:

O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God’s grace. It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straightforwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. For universality is of God and all limitations earthly. Thus man must strive that his reality may manifest virtues and perfections, the light whereof may shine upon everyone. The light of the sun shineth upon all the world and the merciful showers of Divine Providence fall upon all peoples. The vivifying breeze reviveth every living creature and all beings endued with life obtain their share and portion at His heavenly board. In like manner, the affections and loving kindness of the servants of the One True God must be bountifully and universally extended to all mankind. Regarding this, restrictions and limitations are in no wise permitted.
Wherefore, O my loving friends! Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness, that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Bahá, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity. Should other peoples and nations be unfaithful to you show your fidelity unto them, should they be unjust toward you show justice towards them, should they keep aloof from you attract them to yourselves, should they show their enmity be friendly towards them, should they poison your lives, sweeten their souls, should they inflict a wound upon you, be a salve to their sores. Such are the attributes of the sincere! Such are the attributes of the truthful.