Century of Light



The image used by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to capture for His hearers the coming transformation of society was that of light. Unity, He declared, is the power that illuminates and advances all forms of human endeavour. The age that was opening would come in the future to be regarded as “the century of light”, because in it universal recognition of the oneness of humankind would be achieved. With this foundation in place, the process of building a global society embodying principles of justice will begin.

The vision was enunciated by the Master in several Tablets and addresses. Its fullest expression occurs in a Tablet addressed by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to Jane Elizabeth Whyte, wife of the former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. Mrs. Whyte was an ardent sympathizer of the Bahá’í teachings, had visited the Master in ‘Akká and would later make arrangements for the particularly warm reception that met Him in Edinburgh. Using the familiar metaphor of “candles”, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá wrote to Mrs. Whyte:

O honored lady!… Behold how its [unity’s] light is now dawning upon the world’s darkened horizon. The first candle is unity in the political realm, the early glimmerings of which can now be discerned. The second candle is unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed. The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass. The fourth candle is unity in religion which is the corner-stone of the foundation itself, and which, by the power of God, will be revealed in all its splendor. The fifth candle is the unity of nations—a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland. The sixth candle is unity of races, making of all that dwell on earth peoples and kindreds of one race. The seventh candle is unity of language, i.e., the choice of a universal tongue in which all peoples will be instructed and converse. Each and every one of these will inevitably come to pass, inasmuch as the power of the Kingdom of God will aid and assist in their realization.144

While it will be decades—or perhaps a great deal longer—before the vision contained in this remarkable document is fully realized, the essential features of what it promised are now established facts throughout the world. In several of the great changes envisioned—unity of race and unity of religion—the intent of the Master’s words is clear and the processes involved are far advanced, however great may be the resistance in some quarters. To a large extent this is also true of unity of language. The need for it is now recognized on all sides, as reflected in the circumstances that have compelled the United Nations and much of the non-governmental community to adopt several “official languages”. Until a decision is taken by international agreement, the effect of such developments as the Internet, the management of air traffic, the development of technological vocabularies of various kinds, and universal education itself, has been to make it possible, to some extent, for English to fill the gap.

“Unity of thought in world undertakings”, a concept for which the most idealistic aspirations at the opening of the twentieth century lacked even reference points, is also in large measure everywhere apparent in vast programmes of social and economic development, humanitarian aid and concern for protection of the environment of the planet and its oceans. As to “unity in the political realm”, Shoghi Effendi has explained that the reference is to unity which sovereign states achieve among themselves, a developing process the present stage of which is the establishment of the United Nations. The Master’s promise of “unity of nations”, on the other hand, looked forward to today’s widespread acceptance among the peoples of the world of the fact that, however great the differences among them may be, they are the inhabitants of a single global homeland.

“Unity in freedom” has today, of course, become a universal aspiration of the Earth’s inhabitants. Among the chief developments giving substance to it, the Master may well have had in mind the dramatic extinction of colonialism and the consequent rise of self-determination as a dominant feature of national identity at century’s end.

Whatever threats still hang over humanity’s future, the world has been transformed by the events of the twentieth century. That the features of the process should also have been described by the Voice that predicted it with such confidence ought to command earnest reflection on the part of serious minds everywhere.

The changes wrought in humanity’s social and moral life received powerful endorsement at a series of international gatherings called under the United Nations’ authority to mark the approaching end of one “millennium” and the beginning of a new one. On 22–26 May 2000, representatives of over one thousand non-governmental organizations assembled in New York at the invitation of Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General. In the statement that emerged from this meeting, spokespersons of civil society committed their organizations to the ideal that: “…we are one human family, in all our diversity, living on one common homeland and sharing a just, sustainable and peaceful world, guided by universal principles of democracy.…”145

Shortly afterwards, from 28–31 August 2000, a second gathering brought together leaders of most of the world’s religious communities, likewise assembled at the United Nations Headquarters. The Bahá’í International Community was represented by its Secretary-General, who addressed one of the plenary sessions. No observer could fail to be struck by the call of the world’s religious leaders, formally, for their communities “to respect the right to freedom of religion, to seek reconciliation, and to engage in mutual forgiveness and healing.…”146

These two preliminary events prepared the way for what had been designated as the Millennium Summit itself, meeting at the United Nations Headquarters from 6–8 September 2000. Bringing together 149 heads of state and government, the consultation sought to give hope and assurance to the populations of the nations represented. The Summit took the welcome step of inviting a spokesman for the Forum of non-governmental organizations to share the concerns that had been identified at that preparatory gathering. It seemed to Bahá’ís as significant as it was gratifying that the individual accorded this high honour was the Bahá’í International Community’s Principal Representative to the United Nations, in his capacity as Co-Chairman of the Forum. Nothing so dramatically illustrates the difference between the world of 1900 and that of 2000 than the text of the Summit Resolution, signed by all the participants, and referred by them to the United Nations General Assembly:

We solemnly reaffirm, on this historic occasion, that the United Nations is the indispensable common house of the entire human family, through which we will seek to realize our universal aspirations for peace, cooperation and development. We therefore pledge our unstinting support for these common objectives, and our determination to achieve them.147

In concluding this sequence of historic meetings, Mr. Annan addressed himself to the assembled world leaders in surprisingly candid terms—terms that, for many Bahá’ís, carried echoes of Bahá’u’lláh’s stern admonition to the now vanished kings and emperors who had been these leaders’ predecessors: “It lies in your power, and therefore it is your responsibility, to reach the goals that you have defined. Only you can determine whether the United Nations rises to the challenge.”148

Despite the historic importance of the meetings and the fact that the greater portion of humanity’s political, civil and religious leadership took part, the Millennium Summit made little impression on the public mind in most countries. Generous media attention was given to certain of the events, but few readers or listeners could fail to note the expression of scepticism that characterized editorial treatment of the subject or the air of doubt—even of cynicism—that crept into many of the news stories themselves. This sharp disjunction between an event that could legitimately claim to mark a major turning-point in human history, on the one hand, and the lack of enthusiasm or even interest it aroused among populations who were its supposed beneficiaries, on the other, was perhaps the most striking feature of the millennium observations. It exposed the depth of the crisis the world is experiencing at century’s end, in which the processes of both integration and disintegration that had gathered momentum during the past hundred years seem to accelerate with each passing day.

Those who long to believe the visionary statements of world leaders struggle at the same time in the grip of two phenomena that undermine such confidence. The first has already been considered at some length in these pages. The collapse of society’s moral foundations has left the greater part of humankind floundering without reference points in a world that grows daily more threatening and unpredictable. To suggest that the process has nearly reached its end would be merely to raise false hopes. One may appreciate that intense political efforts are being made, that impressive scientific advances continue or that economic conditions improve for a portion of humankind—all without seeing in such developments anything resembling hope of a secure life for oneself, or more importantly, for one’s children. The sense of disillusionment which, as Shoghi Effendi warned, the spread of political corruption would create in the minds of the mass of humankind is now widespread. Outbreaks of lawlessness have become pandemic in both urban and rural life in many lands. The failure of social controls, the effort to justify the most extreme forms of aberrant behaviour as primarily civil rights issues, and an almost universal celebration in the arts and media of degeneracy and violence—these and similar manifestations of a condition approaching moral anarchy suggest a future that paralyzes the imagination. Against the background of this desolate landscape the intellectual vogue of the age, seeking to make a virtue out of grim necessity, has adopted for itself the appellation and mission of “deconstructionism”.

The second of the two developments undermining faith in the future was the focus of some of the Millennium Summit’s most anguished debates. The information revolution set off in the closing decade of the century by the invention of the World Wide Web transformed irreversibly much of human activity. The process of “globalization” that had been following a long rising curve over a period of several centuries was galvanized by new powers beyond the imaginations of most people. Economic forces, breaking free of traditional restraints, brought into being during the closing decade of the century a new global order in the designing, generation and distribution of wealth. Knowledge itself became a significantly more valuable commodity than even financial capital and material resources. In a breathtakingly short space of time, national borders, already under assault, became permeable, with the result that vast sums now pass instantly through them at the command of a computer signal. Complex production operations are so reconfigured as to integrate and maximize the economies available from the contributions of a range of specializing participants, without regard to their national locations. If one were to lower one’s horizon to purely material considerations, the earth has already taken on something of the character of “one country” and the inhabitants of various lands the status of its consumer “citizens”.

Nor is the transformation merely economic. Increasingly, globalization assumes political, social and cultural dimensions. It has become clear that the powers of the institution of the nation-state, once the arbiter and protector of humanity’s fortunes, have been drastically eroded. While national governments continue to play a crucial role, they must now make room for such rising centres of power as multinational corporations, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations of every kind, and huge media conglomerates, the cooperation of all of which is vital to the success of most programmes aimed at achieving significant economic or social ends. Just as the migration of money or corporations encounters little hindrance from national borders, neither can the latter any longer exercise effective control over the dissemination of knowledge. Internet communication, which has the ability to transmit in seconds the entire contents of libraries that took centuries of study to amass, vastly enriches the intellectual life of anyone able to use it, as well as providing sophisticated training in a broad range of professional fields. The system, so prophetically foreseen sixty years ago by Shoghi Effendi, builds a sense of shared community among its users that is impatient of either geographic or cultural distances.

The benefits to many millions of persons are obvious and impressive. Cost effectiveness resulting from the coordination of formerly competing operations tends to bring goods and services within the reach of populations who could not previously have hoped to enjoy them. Enormous increases in the funds available for research and development expand the variety and quality of such benefits. Something of a levelling effect in the distribution of employment opportunities can be seen in the ease with which business operations can shift their base from one part of the world to another. The abandonment of barriers to transnational trade reduces still further the cost of goods to consumers. It is not difficult to appreciate, from a Bahá’í perspective, the potentiality of such transformations for laying the foundations of the global society envisioned in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings.

Far from inspiring optimism about the future, however, globalization is seen by large and growing numbers of people around the world as the principal threat to that future. The violence of the riots set off by the meetings of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during the last two years testifies to the depth of the fear and resentment that the rise of globalization has provoked. Media coverage of these unexpected outbursts focused public attention on protests against gross disparities in the distribution of benefits and opportunities, which globalization is seen as only increasing, and on warnings that, if effective controls are not speedily imposed, the consequences will be catastrophic in social and political, as well as in economic and environmental, terms.

Such concerns appear well-founded. Economic statistics alone reveal a picture of current global conditions that is profoundly disturbing. The ever-widening gulf between the one fifth of the world’s population living in the highest income countries and the one fifth living in the lowest income countries tells a grim story. According to the 1999 Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme, this gap represented, in 1990, a ratio of sixty to one. That is to say, one segment of humankind was enjoying access to sixty percent of the world’s wealth, while another, equally large, population struggled merely to survive on barely one percent of that wealth. By 1997, in the wake of globalization’s rapid advance, the gulf had widened in only seven years to a ratio of seventy-four to one. Even this appalling fact does not take into account the steady impoverishment of the majority of the remaining billions of human beings trapped in the relentlessly narrowing isthmus between these two extremes. Far from being brought under control, the crisis is clearly accelerating. The implications for humanity’s future, in terms of privation and despair engulfing more than two thirds of the Earth’s population, helped to account for the apathy that met the Millennium Summit’s celebration of achievements that were, by all reasonable criteria, truly historic.

Globalization itself is an intrinsic feature of the evolution of human society. It has brought into existence a socio-economic culture that, at the practical level, constitutes the world in which the aspirations of the human race will be pursued in the century now opening. No objective observer, if he is fair-minded in his judgement, will deny that both of the two contradictory reactions it is arousing are, in large measure, well justified. The unification of human society, forged by the fires of the twentieth century, is a reality that with every passing day opens breathtaking new possibilities. A reality also being forced on serious minds everywhere, is the claim of justice to be the one means capable of harnessing these great potentialities to the advancement of civilization. It no longer requires the gift of prophecy to realize that the fate of humanity in the century now opening will be determined by the relationship established between these two fundamental forces of the historical process, the inseparable principles of unity and justice.

In the perspective of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, the greatest danger of both the moral crisis and the inequities associated with globalization in its current form is an entrenched philosophical attitude that seeks to justify and excuse these failures. The overthrow of the twentieth century’s totalitarian systems has not meant the end of ideology. On the contrary. There has not been a society in the history of the world, no matter how pragmatic, experimentalist and multi-form it may have been, that did not derive its thrust from some foundational interpretation of reality. Such a system of thought reigns today virtually unchallenged across the planet, under the nominal designation “Western civilization”. Philosophically and politically, it presents itself as a kind of liberal relativism; economically and socially, as capitalism—two value systems that have now so adjusted to each other and become so mutually reinforcing as to constitute virtually a single, comprehensive world-view.

Appreciation of the benefits—in terms of the personal freedom, social prosperity and scientific progress enjoyed by a significant minority of the Earth’s people—cannot withhold a thinking person from recognizing that the system is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It has contributed its best to the advancement of civilization, as did all its predecessors, and, like them, is impotent to deal with the needs of a world never imagined by the eighteenth century prophets who conceived most of its component elements. Shoghi Effendi did not limit his attention to divine right monarchies, established churches or totalitarian ideologies when he posed the searching question: “Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution?”149

Bahá’u’lláh urges those who believe in Him to “see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others”, to “know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbour”. Tragically, what Bahá’ís see in present-day society is unbridled exploitation of the masses of humanity by greed that excuses itself as the operation of “impersonal market forces”. What meets their eyes everywhere is the destruction of moral foundations vital to humanity’s future, through gross self-indulgence masquerading as “freedom of speech”. What they find themselves struggling against daily is the pressure of a dogmatic materialism, claiming to be the voice of “science”, that seeks systematically to exclude from intellectual life all impulses arising from the spiritual level of human consciousness.

And for a Bahá’í the ultimate issues are spiritual. The Cause is not a political party nor an ideology, much less an engine for political agitation against this or that social wrong. The process of transformation it has set in motion advances by inducing a fundamental change of consciousness, and the challenge it poses to everyone who would serve it is to free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences that are irreconcilable with the Will of God for humanity’s coming of age. Paradoxically, even the distress caused by prevailing conditions that violate one’s conscience aids in this process of spiritual liberation. In the final analysis, such disillusionment drives a Bahá’í to confront a truth emphasized over and over again in the Writings of the Faith:

He hath chosen out of the whole world the hearts of His servants, and made them each a seat for the revelation of His glory. Wherefore, sanctify them from every defilement, that the things for which they were created may be engraven upon them.150


The opening statement of the Gospel attributed to Jesus’ disciple, John—“In the beginning was the Word…”—has fascinated readers for two thousand years. The passage goes on to assert with breathtaking simplicity and directness a spiritual truth that has been central to all revealed religions, vindicated time and again in a succession of civilizations down the ages: “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him”. The promised Manifestation of God appears; a community of believers forms around this focal centre of spiritual life and authority; a new system of values begins to reorder both consciousness and behaviour; the arts and sciences respond; a restructuring of laws and of the administration of social affairs takes place. Slowly, but irresistibly, a new civilization emerges, one that so fulfils the ideals and so engages the capacities of millions of human beings that it does indeed constitute a new world, a world far more real to those who “live, move, and have their being”151 in it than the earthly foundations on which it rests. Throughout the centuries that follow, society continues to depend for its cohesion and self-confidence primarily on the spiritual impulse that gave it birth.

With the appearance of Bahá’u’lláh, the phenomenon has recurred—this time on a scale that embraces the totality of the earth’s inhabitants. In the events of the twentieth century can be seen the first stages of the universal transformation of society set in motion by the Revelation of which Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth … than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness.152

Shoghi Effendi describes this process of world unification as the “Major Plan” of God, whose operation will continue, gathering force and momentum, until the human race has been united in a global society that has banished war and taken charge of its collective destiny. What the struggles of the twentieth century achieved was the fundamental change of direction the Divine purpose required. The change is irreversible. There is no way back to an earlier state of affairs, however greatly some elements of society may, from time to time, be tempted to seek one.

The importance of the historic breakthrough that has thus occurred is in no way minimized by recognition that the process has barely begun. It must lead in time, as Shoghi Effendi has made clear, to the spiritualization of human consciousness and the emergence of the global civilization that will embody the Will of God. Merely to state the goal is to acknowledge the great distance that the human race has yet to traverse. It was against the most intense resistance at every level of society, among governed and governors alike, that the political, social and conceptual changes of the past hundred years were achieved. Ultimately, they were accomplished only at the cost of terrible suffering. It would be unrealistic to imagine that the challenges lying ahead may not exact an even greater toll of a human race that still seeks, by every means in its power, to avoid the spiritual implications of the experience it is undergoing. Shoghi Effendi’s words on the consequences of this obduracy of heart and mind make sober reading:

Adversities unimaginably appalling, undreamed of crises and upheavals, war, famine, and pestilence, might well combine to engrave in the soul of an unheeding generation those truths and principles which it has disdained to recognize and follow.153

Barely a third of the twentieth century had elapsed when the Guardian summoned the followers of Bahá’u’lláh to a far deeper understanding of the Cause itself than anything they had yet appreciated. The Faith had reached the point, he said, when it was “ceasing to designate itself a movement, a fellowship and the like”, designations which, although perhaps appropriate at a time when the message was first being introduced to the West, now “did grave injustice to its ever-unfolding system”. Rejecting as adequate even the term “religion” in its familiar sense, he pointed out that the Faith was already:

…visibly succeeding in demonstrating its claim and title to be regarded as a World Religion, destined to attain, in the fullness of time, the status of a world-embracing Commonwealth, which would be at once the instrument and the guardian of the Most Great Peace announced by its Author.154

As the century advanced, the same creative Force that was awakening the generality of humankind to its oneness was progressively releasing the powers inherent in the Cause and opening a new role for it in human affairs. Over the first two decades of the century, through the loving care of the Master, the spiritual and administrative foundations necessary to Bahá’u’lláh’s purpose were established. On the base thus made available—during the thirty-six years of his own ministry, and the subsequent six years during which his Ten Year Crusade guided the community’s efforts—Shoghi Effendi devoted himself to refining the administrative instruments needed to carry forward the Divine Plan. With the successful establishment in 1963 of the Universal House of Justice, the Bahá’ís of the world set out on the first stage of a mission of long duration: the spiritual empowerment of the whole body of humankind as the protagonists of their own advancement. By the time the century ended, this immense effort had brought into existence a community representative of the diversity of the entire human race, unified in its beliefs and allegiance, and committed to building a global society that will reflect on earth the spiritual and moral vision of its Founder.

This process was immeasurably strengthened in 1992 through the long-awaited publication of a fully-annotated translation into English of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, a repository of Divine guidance for the age of humanity’s collective maturity. A spreading circle of translations was soon providing followers of the Faith around the world with direct access to a Book which its Author has described as: “the Dayspring of Divine knowledge, if ye be of them that understand, and the Dawning-place of God’s commandments, if ye be of those who comprehend.”155 Apart from the soul’s recognition of the Manifestation of God, nothing awakens so great a sense of confidence and vitality in human consciousness—both individual and collective—as does the force of moral certitude. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, laws that are basic to both personal and community life have been reformulated in the context of a society that embraces the whole range of human diversity. New laws and concepts address the further needs of a human race that is entering on its collective coming of age. “O peoples of the earth!”, is Bahá’u’lláh’s appeal, “Cast away that which ye possess, and, on the wings of detachment, soar beyond all created things. Thus biddeth you the Lord of creation, the movement of Whose Pen hath revolutionized the soul of mankind.”156

A feature of the past hundred years of Bahá’í development that should seize the attention of any observer is the Faith’s success in overcoming the attacks made on it. As had been the case during the ministries of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, elements in society who either resented the rise of the new religion or feared the principles it teaches sought by every means in their power to suffocate it. Hardly a decade of the past century did not witness attempts of this kind—ranging from the bloody persecutions incited by Shí‘ih clergy and the shameless falsehoods concocted and spread by their Christian counterparts, to systematic efforts at suppression by various totalitarian regimes, and, finally, to violations of their commitment to Bahá’u’lláh on the part of the insincere, the ambitious or the malevolent among its professed adherents. By every human standard, the Cause should have succumbed to a barrage of opposition without parallel in recent history. Far from succumbing, it flourished. Its reputation rose, its membership vastly increased, its influence spread beyond the dreams of earlier generations of its followers. Persecution served to galvanize its supporters’ efforts. Calumny drove believers to seek a more mature understanding of its history and teachings. And, as both the Master and the Guardian had promised, violation of the Covenant washed out of its ranks persons whose behaviour and attitudes had dampened the faith of others and inhibited progress. If the Cause could bring no other testimony to the powers that sustain it, this succession of triumphs alone should suffice.

Three years before his passing, Shoghi Effendi took advantage of the acquisition of the last plot of land needed for the erection of the International Archives Building to describe for the Bahá’í world the nature and significance of the building project on the slopes of Mount Carmel that the Master had inaugurated and that he himself was pursuing:

These Edifices will, in the shape of a far-flung arc, and following a harmonizing style of architecture, surround the resting-places of the Greatest Holy Leaf … of her Brother … and of their Mother.… The ultimate completion of this stupendous undertaking will mark the culmination of the development of a world-wide divinely-appointed Administrative Order whose beginnings may be traced as far back as the concluding years of the Heroic Age of the Faith.157

The current stage of this ambitious enterprise was brought to its successful conclusion in the final year of the century. An outpouring of resources from believers throughout the world had responded to the vision of Bahá’u’lláh for this sacred spot, announced in His Tablet of Carmel: “Rejoice, for God hath in this day established upon thee His throne, hath made thee the dawning-place of His signs and the dayspring of the evidences of His Revelation.” In the complex of majestic buildings spread out along the Arc and the flights of terraced gardens rising from the foot of the mountain to its summit, the Cause whose influence had steadily expanded throughout the world during the century of light emerged finally as a visible and compelling presence. In the crowds of visitors from every land thronging the stairs and pathways each day and the stream of distinguished guests who are welcomed to the World Centre’s reception rooms, perceptive minds already sense the dawning fulfilment of the vision recorded twenty-three hundred years ago by the prophet Isaiah: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”158

The Bahá’í Cause is distinguished above all else by its nature as an uncompromised organic whole. Embodying the principle of unity that lies at the heart of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, this nature is the sign of the presence of the indwelling Spirit that animates the Faith. Alone among the religions of history—and despite repeated efforts to break this unity—the Cause has successfully resisted the perennial blight of schism and faction. The success of the community’s teaching work is assured by the fact that the instruments it uses were created by the Revelation itself, that it was the Faith’s Founders who conceived the methods for the prosecution of its Divine Plan, and that it was They who guided, in every significant detail, the launching of the enterprise. During the twentieth century, through the efforts of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá and the Guardian, Mount Carmel itself has become an expression of this oneness of the Faith’s being. In contrast to the circumstances of other world religions, the spiritual and administrative centres of the Cause are inseparably bound together in this same spot on earth, its guiding institutions centred on the Shrine of its martyred Prophet. For many visitors, even the harmony that has been achieved in the variegated flowers, trees and shrubs of the surrounding gardens seems to proclaim the ideal of unity in diversity that they find attractive in the Faith’s teachings.

Nothing so dramatically marked the conclusion of one hundred years of achievement as an event that also plunged believers the world over into deep sorrow. On 19 January 2000, a message from the Universal House of Justice announced:

In the early hours of this morning, the soul of Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum, beloved consort of Shoghi Effendi and the Bahá’í world’s last remaining link with the family of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, was released from the limitations of this earthly existence.… Her twenty years of intimate association with Shoghi Effendi evoked from his pen such accolades as ‘my helpmate’, ‘my shield’, ‘my tireless collaborator in the arduous tasks I shoulder’.…

As the initial shock of grief began to lift, appreciation of yet another of the inexhaustible bounties of Bahá’u’lláh gradually took its place. To a figure whose long lifetime had spanned most of the century—and whose indomitable spirit had sustained Bahá’í struggles and sacrifices throughout its latter half—it had been given to live and celebrate the magnificent victories to which she had so magnificently contributed.

In calling on those who have recognized Him to share the message of the Day of God with others, Bahá’u’lláh turns again to the language of creation itself: “Every body calleth aloud for a soul. Heavenly souls must needs quicken, with the breath of the Word of God, the dead bodies with a fresh spirit.”159 The principle is as true of the collective life of humankind, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá points out, as it is of the lives of its individual members: “Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit.…”160

In this compelling analogy is summed up the relationship between the two historical developments that the Will of God propelled forward along converging tracks during the century of light. Only a person blind to the intellectual and social capacities latent in the human race, and insensitive to humanity’s desperate needs, could fail to take deep satisfaction from the advances that society has made during the past hundred years, and particularly from the processes knitting together the earth’s peoples and nations. How much more are such achievements cherished by Bahá’ís, who see in them the very Purpose of God. But this Body of humanity’s material civilization calls aloud, yearns more desperately with each passing day, for its Soul. As with every great civilization in history, until it is so animated, and its spiritual faculties awakened, it will find neither peace, nor justice, nor a unity that rises above the level of negotiation and compromise. Addressing the “elected representatives of the people in every land”, Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.161

It is not, therefore, in providing support, nor encouragement, nor even example that the work of the Cause chiefly lies. The Bahá’í community will go on contributing in every way possible to efforts toward global unification and social betterment, but such contributions are secondary to its purpose. Its purpose is to assist the people of the world to open their minds and hearts to the one Power that can fulfil their ultimate longing. There are none, except those who have themselves awakened to the Revelation of God, who can bring this help. There are none who can offer credible testimony to a coming world of peace and justice but those who understand, however dimly, the words with which the Voice of God summoned Bahá’u’lláh to arise and undertake His mission:

Canst thou discover any one but Me, O Pen, in this Day? What hath become of the creation and the manifestations thereof? What of the names and their kingdom? Whither are gone all created things, whether seen or unseen? What of the hidden secrets of the universe and its revelations? Lo, the entire creation hath passed away! Nothing remaineth except My Face, the Ever-Abiding, the Resplendent, the All-Glorious.

This is the Day whereon naught can be seen except the splendors of the Light that shineth from the face of Thy Lord, the Gracious, the Most Bountiful. Verily, We have caused every soul to expire by virtue of Our irresistible and all-subduing sovereignty. We have, then, called into being a new creation, as a token of Our grace unto men. I am, verily, the All-Bountiful, the Ancient of Days.162

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