Library

Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

Menu

– 15 –

Retrospect and Prospect

I bear witness, O friends! that the favor is complete, the argument fulfilled, the proof manifest, and the evidence established. Let it now be seen what your endeavors in the path of detachment will reveal. In this wise hath the divine favor been fully vouchsafed unto you and unto them that are in heaven and on earth. All praise to God, the Lord of all worlds.

Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words.

Progress of the Cause

Unfortunately it is impossible, within the space at our disposal, to describe in detail the progress of the Bahá’í Faith throughout the world. Many chapters might be devoted to this fascinating subject, and many thrilling stories related about the pioneers and martyrs of the Cause, but a very brief summary must suffice.

In Persia the early believers in this revelation met with the utmost opposition, persecution and cruelty at the hands of their fellow countrymen, but they faced all calamities and ordeals with sublime heroism, firmness and patience. Their baptism was in their own blood, for many thousands of them perished as martyrs; while thousands more were beaten, imprisoned, stripped of their possessions, driven from their homes or otherwise ill-treated. For sixty years or more anyone in Persia who dared to own allegiance to the Báb or Bahá’u’lláh did so at the risk of his property, his freedom and even his life. Yet this determined and ferocious opposition could no more check the progress of the Movement than a cloud of dust could keep the sun from rising.

From one end of Persia1 to the other Bahá’ís are now to be found in almost every city and town, and even amongst the nomad tribes. In some villages the whole population is Bahá’í and in other places a large proportion of the inhabitants are believers. Recruited from many and diverse sects, which were bitterly hostile to each other, they now form a great fellowship of friends who acknowledge brotherhood, not only with each other, but with all men everywhere, who are working for the unification and upliftment of humanity, for the removal of all prejudices and conflict, and for the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the world.

What miracle could be greater than this? Only one, and that the accomplishment throughout the entire world of the task to which these men have set themselves. And signs are not lacking that this greater miracle, too, is in progress. The Faith is showing an astonishing vitality, and is spreading, like leaven, through the lump of humanity, transforming people and society as its spreads.2

The relatively small number of Bahá’ís may still seem insignificant in comparison with the followers of the ancient religions, but they are confident that a divine Power has blessed them with the high privilege of serving a new order into which will throng the multitudes of East and West at no distant day.

While, therefore, it remains true that the Holy Spirit has reflected from pure hearts in all countries still unconscious of the Source, and the growth of the Faith can be witnessed in the many efforts outside the Bahá’í community to promote one or another of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, nevertheless the lack of any enduring foundation in the old order is convincing proof that the ideals of the Kingdom can only become fruitful within the framework of the Bahá’í community.

Prophethood of Báb and Bahá’u’lláh

The more we study the lives and teachings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, the more impossible does it seem to find any explanation of Their greatness, except that of Divine Inspiration. They were reared in an atmosphere of fanaticism and bigotry. They had only the most elementary education. They had no contact with Western culture. They had no political or financial power to back Them. They asked nothing from men, and receive little but injustice and oppression. The great ones of earth ignored or opposed Them. They were scourged and tortured, imprisoned and subjected to direst calamities in the fulfillment of Their mission. They were alone against the world, having no help but that of God, yet already Their triumph is manifest and magnificent.

The grandeur and sublimity of Their ideals, the nobility and self-sacrifice of Their lives; Their dauntless courage and conviction, Their amazing wisdom and knowledge, Their grasp of the needs of both Eastern and Western peoples, the comprehensiveness and adequacy of Their teachings, Their power to inspire wholehearted devotion and enthusiasm in Their followers, the penetration and potency of Their influence, the progress of the Movement They founded—surely these constitute proofs of Prophethood as convincing as any which the history of religion can show.

A Glorious Prospect

The Bahá’í glad tidings disclose a vision of the Bounty of God and of the future progress of humanity, which is surely the greatest and most glorious Revelation ever given to mankind, the development and fulfillment of all previous Revelations. Its purpose is nothing less than the regeneration of mankind and the creation of “new heavens and a new earth.” It is the same task to which Christ and all the Prophets have devoted Their lives, and between these great teachers there is no rivalry. It is not by this Manifestation or by that, but by all together, that the task will be accomplished.

As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—

It is not necessary to lower Abraham to raise Jesus. It is not necessary to lower Jesus to proclaim Bahá’u’lláh. We must welcome the Truth of God wherever we behold it. The essence of the question is that all these great Messengers came to raise the Divine Standard of Perfections. All of them shine as orbs in the same heaven of the Divine Will. All of them give Light to the world.

The task is God’s, and God calls not only the Prophets but all mankind to be His co-workers in this creative process. If we refuse His invitation, we shall not hinder the work from going on, for what God wills shall surely come to pass. If we fail to play our part He can raise up other instruments to perform His purpose; but we shall miss the real aim and object of our own lives. At-one-ment with God—becoming His lovers, His servants, the willing channels and mediums of His Creative Power, so that we are conscious of no life within us but His Divine and abundant life—that, according to the Bahá’í teaching, is the ineffable and glorious consummation of human existence.

Humanity, however, is sound at heart, for it is made “in the image and likeness of God,” and when at last it sees the truth, it will not persist in the paths of folly. Bahá’u’lláh assures us that erelong the call of God will be generally accepted, and mankind as a whole will turn to righteousness and obedience. “All sorrow will then be turned into joy, and all disease into health,” and the kingdoms of this world shall become “the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. xi, 15). Not only those on earth, but all in the heavens and on the earth, shall become one in God and rejoice eternally in Him.

Renewal of Religion

The state of the world today surely affords ample evidence that, with rare exceptions, people of all religions need to be reawakened to the real meaning of their religion; and that reawakening is an important part of the work of Bahá’u’lláh. He comes to make Christians better Christians, to make Muslims real Muslims, to make all men true to the spirit that inspired their Prophets. He also fulfills the promise made by all these Prophets, of a more glorious Manifestation which was to appear in the “Fullness of Time” to crown and consummate Their labors. He gives a fuller unfolding of spiritual truths than His predecessors, and reveals the Will of God with regard to all the problems of individual and social life that confront us in the world today. He gives a universal teaching which affords a firm foundation on which a new and better civilization can be built up, a teaching adapted to the needs of the world in the new era which is now commencing.

Need for New Revelation

The unification of the world of humanity, the welding together of the world’s different religions, the reconciliation of Religion and Science, the establishment of Universal Peace, of International Arbitration of an International House of Justice, of an International Language, the Emancipation of Women, Universal Education, the abolition not only of Chattel Slavery, but of Industrial Slavery, the Organization of Humanity as a single whole, with due regard to the rights and liberties of each individual—these are problems of gigantic magnitude and stupendous difficulty in relation to which Christians, Muḥammadans and adherents of other religions have held and still hold the most diverse and often violently opposed views, but Bahá’u’lláh has revealed clearly defined principles, the general adoption of which would obviously make the world a paradise.

Truth Is for All

Many are quite ready to admit that the Bahá’í teachings would be a splendid thing for Persia and for the East, but imagine that for the nations of the West they are unnecessary or unsuitable. To one who mentioned such a view, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied:—

As to the meaning of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, whatever has to do with the universal good is divine, and whatever is divine is for the universal good. If it be true, it is for all; if not, it is for no one; therefore a divine cause of universal good cannot be limited to either the East or the West, for the radiance of the Sun of Truth illumines both the East and the West, and it makes its heat felt in the South and in the North—there is no difference between one Pole and another. At the time of the Manifestation of Christ, the Romans and Greeks thought His Cause was especially for the Jews. They thought they had a perfect civilization and nothing to learn from Christ’s teachings, and by this false supposition many were deprived of His Grace. Likewise know that the principles of Christianity and the Commandments of Bahá’u’lláh are identical and their paths are the same. Every day there is progress; there was a time when this divine institution (of progressive revelation) was in embryo, then newborn, then a child, then an intellectual youth; but today it is resplendent with beauty and shining with the greatest brilliancy.

Happy is he who penetrates the mystery and takes his place in the world of the illumined ones.

The Last Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

With the passing of its beloved leader, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Bahá’í Faith entered on a new phase of its history. This new phase represents a higher state in the existence of the same spiritual organism, a more mature and consequently a more responsible expression of the faith felt by its members. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had devoted His superhuman energy and unique capacity to the task of spreading His love for Bahá’u’lláh throughout the East and West. He had lighted the candle of faith in countless souls. He had trained and guided them in the attributes of the personal spiritual life. In view of the momentous importance of the Last Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the gravity of the issues it raises and the profound wisdom underlying its provisions, we give a few extracts which vividly portray the spirit and leading principles which animated and guided ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and are transmitted as a rich heritage to His faithful followers:—

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, straight forwardness 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.…

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 keep aloof from you attract them to yourself, 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.

O ye beloved of the Lord! It is incumbent upon you to be submissive to all monarchs that are just and to show your fidelity to every righteous king. Serve ye the sovereigns of the world with utmost truthfulness and loyalty. Show obedience unto them and be their well-wishers. Without their leave and permission do not meddle with political affairs, for disloyalty to the just sovereign is disloyalty to God Himself.

This is my counsel and the commandment of God unto you. Well is it with them that act accordingly.

Lord! Thou seest all things weeping over me and my kindred rejoicing in my woes. By Thy Glory, O my God! Even amongst mine enemies, some have lamented my troubles and my distress, and of the envious ones a number have shed tears because of my cares, my exile and my afflictions. They did this because they found naught in me but affection and care and witnessed naught but kindliness and mercy. As they saw me swept into the flood of tribulation and adversity and exposed even as a target to the arrows of fate, their hearts were moved with compassion—“The Lord is our witness; naught have we seen from him but faithfulness, generosity and extreme compassion.” The Covenant-breakers, foreboders of evil, however, waxed fiercer in their rancor, rejoiced as I fell a victim to the most grievous ordeal, bestirred themselves against me and made merry over the heartrending happenings around me.

I call upon Thee, O Lord my God! with my tongue and with all my heart, not to require 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!

The disciples of Christ forgot themselves and all earthy things, forsook all their cares and belongings, purged themselves of self and passion and with absolute detachment scattered far and wide and engaged in calling the peoples of the world to the Divine Guidance, till at last they made the world another world, illumined the surface of the earth and even to their last hour proved self-sacrificing in the pathway of that Beloved One of God. Finally in various lands they suffered glorious martyrdom. Let them that are men of action follow in their footsteps!

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!

With ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, the time had come to establish the administrative order which has been termed the pattern and nucleus of the world order which it is the special mission of the religion of Bahá’u’lláh to establish. The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá consequently marks a turning point in Bahá’í history, dividing the era of immaturity and irresponsibility from that era in which the Bahá’ís themselves are destined to fulfill their spirituality by enlarging its scope from the realm of personal experience to that of social unity and cooperation. The three principal elements in the administrative plan left by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are:—

  1. 1 “The Guardian of the Cause of God,”

  2. 2 “The Hands of the Cause of God,” and

  3. 3 “The Houses of Justice, Local, National and International.”3

The Guardian of the Cause of God

‘Abdu’l-Bahá appointed His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, to the responsible position of “Guardian of the Cause” (Valíyy-i-Amru’lláh). Shoghi Effendi is the eldest son of Ḍíyá’íyyih Khánum, the eldest daughter of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. His father, Mírzá Hádí, is a relative of the Báb (although not a direct descendant, as the Báb’s only child died in infancy). Shoghi Effendi was twenty-five years of age, and was studying at Balliol College, Oxford, at the time of his grandfather’s passing. The announcement of his appointment is made in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will as follows:—

O my loving friends! After the passing away of this wronged one, it is incumbent upon the Aghṣán (Branches), the Afnán (Twigs) 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 Aghṣán, the Afnán, the Hands of the Cause of God and His loved ones must turn. He is the expounder of the words of God and after him will succeed the first-born of his lineal descendants.

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). Whatsoever they decide is of God.…

O ye beloved of the Lord! It is incumbent upon the Guardian of the Cause of God to appoint in his own lifetime him that shall become his successor, that differences may not arise after his passing. He that is appointed must manifest in himself detachment from all worldly things, must be the essence of purity, must show in himself the fear of God, knowledge, wisdom and learning. Thus, should the first-born of the Guardian of the Cause of God not manifest in himself the truth of the words:—“The child is the secret essence of its sire,” that is, should he not inherit of the spiritual within him (the Guardian of the Cause of God) and his glorious lineage not be matched with a goodly character, then must he (the Guardian of the Cause of God) choose another branch to succeed him.

The Hands of the Cause of God must elect from their own number nine persons that shall at all times be occupied in the important services of the work of the Guardian of the Cause of God. The election of these nine must be carried either unanimously or by majority from the company of the Hands of the Cause of God and these, whether unanimously or by a majority vote, must give their assent to the choice of the one whom the Guardian of the Cause of God hath chosen as his successor. This assent must be given in such wise as the assenting and dissenting voices may not be distinguished (i.e., secret ballot).

Hands of the Cause of God

During His own lifetime Bahá’u’lláh appointed a few tried and trusted friends to assist in directing and promoting the work of the Movement, and gave them the title of Ayádíyi-Amru’lláh (lit. “Hands of the Cause of God”). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá makes provision in His Will for the establishment of a permanent body of workers to serve the Cause and help the Guardian of the Cause. He writes:—

O friends! The Hands of the Cause of God must be nominated and appointed by the Guardian of the Cause of God.…

The obligations of the Hands of the Cause of God are to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things. They must manifest the fear of God in their conduct, their manners, their deeds and their words.

This body of the Hands of the Cause of God is under the direction of the Guardian of the Cause of God. He must continually urge them to strive and endeavor to the utmost of their ability to diffuse the sweet savors of God, and to guide all the peoples of the world, for it is the light of Divine Guidance that causeth all the universe to be illumined.4

The Administrative Order5

It has been the general characteristic of religion that organization marks the interruption of the true spiritual influence and serves to prevent the original impulse from being carried into the world. The organization has invariably become a substitute for religion rather than a method or an instrument used to give the religion effect. The separation of peoples into different traditions unbridged by any peaceful or constructive intercourse has made this inevitable. Up to the present time, in fact, no Founder of a revealed religion has explicitly laid down the principles that should guide the administrative machinery of the Faith He has established.

In the Bahá’í Cause, the principles of world administration were expressed by Bahá’u’lláh, and these principles were developed in the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, more especially in His Will and Testament.

The purpose of this organization is to make possible a true and lasting unity among peoples of different races, classes, interests, characters, and inherited creeds. A close and sympathetic study of this aspect of the Bahá’í Cause will show that the purpose and method of Bahá’í administration is so perfectly adapted to the fundamental spirit of the Revelation that it bears to it the same relationship as body to soul. In character, the principles of Bahá’í administration represent the science of cooperation; in application, they provide for a new and higher type of morality worldwide in scope.…

A Bahá’í community differs from other voluntary gatherings in that its foundation is so deeply laid and broadly extended that it can include any sincere soul. Whereas other associations are exclusive, in effect if not in intention, and from method if not from ideal, Bahá’í association is inclusive, shutting the gates of fellowship to no sincere soul. In every gathering there is latent or developed some basis of selection. In religion this basis is a creed limited by the historical nature of its origin; in politics this is party or platform; in economics this is a mutual misfortune or mutual power; in the arts and sciences this basis consists of special training or activity or interest. In all these matters, the more exclusive the basis of selection, the stronger the movement—a condition diametrically opposed to that existing in the Bahá’í Cause. Hence the Cause, for all its spirit of growth and progress, develops slowly as regards the numbers of its active adherents. For people are accustomed to exclusiveness and division in all affairs. The important sanctions have ever been warrants and justifications of division. To enter the Bahá’í Movement is to leave these sanctions behind—an experience which at first invariably exposes one to new trials and sufferings, as the human ego revolts against the supreme sanction of universal love. The scientific must associate with the simple and unlearned, the rich with the poor, the white with the colored, the mystic with the literalist, the Christian with the Jew, the Muslim with the Parsee: and on terms removing the advantage of long established presumptions and privileges.

But for this difficult experience there are glorious compensations. Let us remember that art grows sterile as it turns away from the common humanity, that philosophy likewise loses its vision when developed in solitude, and that politics and religion never succeed apart from the general needs of mankind. Human nature is not yet known, for we have all lived in a state of mental, moral, emotional or social defense, and the psychology of defense is the psychology of inhibition. But the love of God removes fear; the removal of fear establishes the latent power, and association with others in spiritual love brings these powers into vital, positive expression. A Bahá’í community is a gathering where this process can take place in this age, slowly at first, as the new impetus gathers force, more rapidly as the members become conscious of the powers unfolding the flower of unity among men.…

The responsibility for and supervision of local Bahá’í affairs is vested in a body known as the Spiritual Assembly. This body (limited to nine members) is elected annually on April 21st, the first day of Riḍván (the Festival commemorating the Declaration of Bahá’u’lláh) by the adult declared believers of the community, the voting list being drawn up by the outgoing Spiritual Assembly. Concerning the character and functions of this body, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has written as follows:—

It is incumbent upon every one [every believer] not to take any step [of Bahá’í activity] without consulting the Spiritual Assembly, and they must assuredly obey with heart and soul its bidding and be submissive unto it, that things may be properly ordered and well arranged. Otherwise every person will act independently and after his own judgment, will follow his own desire, and do harm to the Cause.

The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. In this day, assemblies of consultation are of the greatest importance and a vital necessity. Obedience unto them is essential and obligatory. The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.…

The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the assembly. They must be wholly free from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God, for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden. Should harmony of thought and absolute unity be nonexistent, that gathering shall be dispersed and that assembly be brought to naught. The second condition:—They must when coming together turn their faces to the Kingdom on High and ask aid from the Realm of Glory.… Discussions must all be confined to spiritual matters that pertain to the training of souls, the instruction of children, the relief of the poor, the help of the feeble throughout all classes in the world, kindness to all peoples, the diffusion of the fragrances of God and the exaltation of His Holy Word. Should they endeavor to fulfill these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the center of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit.

Expounding this subject, Shoghi Effendi writes:—

… nothing whatever should be given to the public by any individual among the friends, unless fully considered and approved by the Spiritual Assembly in his locality; and if this (as is undoubtedly the case) is a matter that pertains to the general interest of the Cause in that land, then it is incumbent upon the Spiritual Assembly to submit it to the consideration and approval of the national body representing all the various local assemblies. Not only with regard to publication, but all matters without any exception whatsoever, regarding the interests of the Cause in that locality, individually or collectively, should be referred exclusively to the Spiritual Assembly in that locality, which shall decide upon it, unless it be a matter of national interest, in which case it shall be referred to the national [Bahá’í] body. With this national body also will rest the decision whether a given question is of local or national interest. (By national affairs is not meant matters that are political in their character, for the friends of God the world over are strictly forbidden to meddle with political affairs in any way whatsoever, but rather things that affect the spiritual activities of the body of the friends in that land.)

Full harmony, however, as well as cooperation among the various local assemblies and the members themselves, and particularly between each assembly and the national body, is of the utmost importance, for upon it depends the unity of the Cause of God, the solidarity of the friends, the full, speedy and efficient working of the spiritual activities of His loved ones.…

The various Assemblies, local and national, constitute today the bedrock upon the strength of which the Universal House [of Justice] is in future to be firmly established and raised. Not until these function vigorously and harmoniously can the hope for the termination of this period of transition be realized.…

… bear in mind that the keynote of the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation. Nothing short of the spirit of a true Bahá’í can hope to reconcile the principles of mercy and justice, of freedom and submission, of the sanctity of the right of the individual and of self-surrender, of vigilance, discretion and prudence on the one hand, and fellowship, candor and courage on the other.

The local Spiritual Assemblies of a country are linked together and coordinating through another elected body of nine members, the National Spiritual Assembly. This body comes into being by means of an annual election held by elected delegates representing the local Bahá’í communities.… The National Convention in which the delegates are gathered together is composed of an elective body based upon the principle of proportional representation.… These National Conventions are preferably held during the period of Riḍván, the twelve days beginning April 21st which commemorate the Declaration made by Bahá’u’lláh in the Garden of Riḍván near Baghdád. The recognition of delegates is vested in the outgoing National Spiritual Assembly.

A National Convention is an occasion for deepening one’s understanding of Bahá’í activities and of sharing reports of national and local activities for the period of the elapsed year.… The function of a Bahá’í delegate is limited to the duration of the National Convention and participation in the election of the new National Spiritual Assembly. While gathered together, the delegates are a consultative and advisory body whose recommendations are to be carefully considered by the members of the elected National Spiritual Assembly.…

The relation of the National Spiritual Assembly to the local Spiritual Assemblies and to the body of the believers in the country is thus defined in the letters of the Guardian of the Cause:

Regarding the establishment of “National Assemblies,” it is of vital importance that in every country, where the conditions are favorable and the number of the friends has grown and reached a considerable size … that a “National Spiritual Assembly” be immediately established, representative of the friends throughout that country.

Its immediate purpose is to stimulate, unify and coordinate by frequent personal consultations, the manifold activities of the friends as well as the local Assemblies; and by keeping in close and constant touch with the Holy Land, initiate measures, and direct in general the affairs of the Cause in that country.

It serves also another purpose, no less essential than the first, as in the course of time it shall evolve into the National House of Justice (referred to in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will as the “secondary House of Justice”), which according to the explicit text of the Testament will have, in conjunction with the other National Assemblies throughout the Bahá’í world, to elect directly the members of the International House of Justice, that Supreme Council that will guide, organize and unify the affairs of the Movement throughout the world.…

This National Spiritual Assembly, which, pending the establishment of the Universal House of Justice, will have to be re-elected once a year, obviously assumes grave responsibilities, for it has to exercise full authority over all the local Assemblies in its province, and will have to direct the activities of the friends, guard vigilantly the Cause of God, and control and supervise the affairs of the Movement in general.

Vital issues, affecting the interests of the Cause in that country such as the matter of translation and publication, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, the Teaching Work, and other similar matters that stand distinct from strictly local affairs, must be under the full jurisdiction of the National Assembly.

It will have to refer each of these questions, even as the local Assemblies, to a special Committee, to be elected by the members of the National Spiritual Assembly, from among all the friends in that country, which will bear to it the same relation as the local committees bear to their respective local Assemblies.

With it, too, rests the decision whether a certain point at issue is strictly local in its nature, and should be reserved for the consideration and decision of the local Assembly, or whether it should fall under its own province and be regarded as a matter which ought to receive its special attention.…

… it is bounden duty, in the interest of the Cause we all love and serve, of the members of the incoming National Assembly, once elected by the delegates at Convention time, to seek and have the utmost regard, individually as well as collectively, for the advice, the considered opinion and the true sentiments of the assembled delegates. Banishing every vestige of secrecy, of undue reticence, of dictatorial aloofness, from their midst, they should radiantly and abundantly unfold to the eyes of the delegates, by whom they are elected, their plans, their hopes, and their cares. They should familiarize the delegates with the various matters that will have to be considered in the current year, and calmly and conscientiously study and weigh the opinions and judgments of the delegates. The newly elected National Assembly, during the few days when the Convention is in session and after the dispersal of the delegates, should seek ways and means to cultivate understanding, facilitate and maintain the exchange of views, deepen confidence, and vindicate by every tangible evidence their one desire to serve and advance the common weal.…

The National Spiritual Assembly, however, in view of the unavoidable limitations imposed upon the convening of frequent and long-standing sessions of the Convention, will have to retain in its hands the final decision on all matters that affect the interests of the Cause … such as the right to decide whether any local Assembly is functioning in accordance with the principles laid down for the conduct and the advancement of the Cause.…

Concerning the matter of drawing up the voting list to be used at the annual local Bahá’í elections, the responsibility for this is placed upon each local Spiritual Assembly, and as a guidance in the matter the Guardian has written the following:

… 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 as 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.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s instructions provide for the further development of Bahá’í organization.… :

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.6 Unto this body all things must be referred. It enacted 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 and the Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body. Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint one to represent him.… This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong, that all the regions of the world may become even as Paradise itself.…

… 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. Whoso doth deviate therefrom is verily of them that love discord, hath shown forth malice and turned away from the Lord of the Covenant.

Even at the present time, the Bahá’ís in all parts of the world maintain an intimate and cordial association by means of regular correspondence and individual visits. This contact of members of different races, nationalities and religious traditions is concrete proof that the burden of prejudice and the historical factors of division can be entirely overcome through the spirit of oneness established by Bahá’u’lláh.

The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh

The larger implications of this order are explained by Shoghi Effendi in successive communications addressed to the Bahá’í community since February, 1929:—

I cannot refrain from appealing to them who stand identified with the Faith to disregard the prevailing notions and the fleeting fashions of the day, and to realize as never before that the exploded theories and the tottering institutions of present-day civilization must needs appear in sharp contrast with those God-given institutions which are destined to arise upon their ruin.…

For Bahá’u’lláh … has not only imbued mankind with a new and regenerating Spirit. He has not merely enunciated certain universal principles, or propounded a particular philosophy, however potent, sound and universal these may be. In addition to these He, as well as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after Him, has, unlike the Dispensations of the past, clearly and specifically laid down a set of Laws, established definite institutions, and provided for the essentials of a Divine Economy. These are destined to be a pattern for future society, a supreme instrument for the establishment of the Most Great Peace, and the one agency for the unification of the world, and the proclamation of the reign of righteousness and justice upon the earth.…

Unlike the Dispensation of Christ, unlike the Dispensation of Muḥammad, unlike all the Dispensations of the past, the apostles of Bahá’u’lláh in every land, wherever they labor and toil, have before them in clear, in unequivocal and emphatic language, all the laws, the regulations, the principles, the institutions, the guidance, they require for the prosecution and consummation of their task.… Therein lies the distinguishing feature of the Bahá’í Revelation. Therein lies the strength of the unity of the Faith, of the validity of a Revelation that claims not to destroy or belittle previous Revelations, but to connect, unify, and fulfill them.…

Feeble though our Faith may now appear in the eyes of men, who either denounce it as an offshoot of Islam, or contemptuously ignore it as one more of those obscure sects that abound in the West, this priceless gem of Divine Revelation, now still in its embryonic state, shall evolve within the shell of His law, and shall forge ahead, undivided and unimpaired, till it embraces the whole of mankind. Only those who have already recognized the supreme station of Bahá’u’lláh, only those whose hearts have been touched by His love, and have become familiar with the potency of His spirit, can adequately appreciate the value of this Divine Economy—His inestimable gift to mankind.—March 21, 1930.

It is towards this goal—the goal of a new World Order, Divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, equitable in principle, challenging in its features—that a harassed humanity must strive.…

How pathetic indeed are the efforts of those leaders of human institutions who, in utter disregard of the spirit of the age, are striving to adjust national processes, suited to the ancient days of self-contained nations, to an age which must either achieve the unity of the world, as adumbrated by Bahá’u’lláh, or perish. At so critical an hour in the history of civilization it behooves the leaders of all the nations of the world, great and small, whether in the East or in the West, whether victors or vanquished, to give heed to the clarion call of Bahá’u’lláh and, thoroughly imbued with a sense of world solidarity, the sine quâ non of loyalty to His Cause, arise manfully to carry out in its entirety the one remedial scheme He, the Divine Physician, has prescribed for an ailing humanity. Let them discard, one for all, every preconceived idea, every national prejudice, and give heed to the sublime counsel of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the authorized Expounder of His teachings. You can best serve your country, was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s rejoinder7 to a high official in the service of the federal government of the United States of America, who had questioned Him as to the best manner in which he could promote the interests of his government and people, if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principles of federalism underlying the government of your own country to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world.…

Some form of a world Super-State must needs be evolved, in whose favor all the nations of the world will have willingly ceded every claim to make war, certain rights to impose taxation and all rights to maintain armaments, except for purposes of maintaining internal order within their respective dominions. Such a state will have to include within its orbit an International Executive adequate to enforce supreme and unchallengeable authority on every recalcitrant member of the commonwealth; a World Parliament whose members shall be elected by the people in their respective countries and whose election shall be confirmed by their respective governments; and a Supreme Tribunal whose judgment will have a binding effect even in such cases where the parties concerned did not voluntarily agree to submit their case to its consideration. A world community in which all economic barriers will have been permanently demolished and the interdependence of Capital and Labor definitely recognized; in which the clamor of religious fanaticism and strife will have been forever stilled; in which the flame of racial animosity will have been finally extinguished; in which a single code of international law—the product of the considered judgment of the world’s federated representatives—shall have as its sanction the instant and coercive intervention of the combined forces of the federated units; and finally a world community in which the fury of a capricious and militant nationalism will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship—such indeed, appears, in its broadest outline, the Order anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh, an Order that shall come to be regarded as the fairest fruit of a slowly maturing age.…

Let there be no misgivings as to the animating purpose of the world-wide Law of Bahá’u’lláh. Far from aiming at the subversion of the existing foundations of society, it seeks to broaden its basis, to remold its institutions in a manner consonant with the needs of an ever-changing world. It can conflict with no legitimate allegiances, nor can it undermine essential loyalties. Its purpose is neither to stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism in men’s hearts, nor to abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race.…

The call of Bahá’u’lláh is primarily directed against all forms of provincialism, all insularities and prejudices.… For legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine.…

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve—is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope.… Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family.…

It represents the consummation of human evolution.…

That the forces of a world catastrophe can alone precipitate such a new phase of human thought is, alas, becoming increasingly apparent.…

Nothing but a fiery ordeal, out of which humanity will emerge, chastened and prepared, can succeed in implanting that sense of responsibility which the leaders of a newborn age must arise to shoulder.…

Has not ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself asserted in unequivocal language that “another war, fiercer than the last, will assuredly break out”?—November 28, 1931.

This Administrative Order … will, as its component parts, its organic institutions, begin to function with efficiency and vigor, assert its claim and demonstrate its capacity to be regarded not only as the nucleus but the very pattern of the New World Order destined to embrace in the fullness of time the whole of mankind.…

Alone of all the Revelations gone before it this Faith has … succeeded in raising a structure which the bewildered followers of bankrupt and broken creeds might well approach and critically examine, and seek, ere it is too late, the invulnerable security of its world-embracing shelter.…

To what else if not the power and majesty which this Administrative Order—the rudiments of the future all-enfolding Bahá’í Commonwealth—is destined to manifest, can these utterances of Bahá’u’lláh allude: “The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” …

The Bahá’í Commonwealth of the future of which this vast Administrative Order is the sole framework, is, both in theory and practice, not only unique in the entire history of political institutions, but can find no parallel in the annals of any of the world’s recognized religious systems. No form of democratic government; no system of autocracy or of dictatorship, whether monarchical or republican; no intermediary scheme of a purely aristocratic order; nor even any of the recognized types of theocracy, whether it be the Hebrew Commonwealth, or the various Christian ecclesiastical organizations, or the Imamate or the Caliphate in Islám—none of these can be identified or be said to conform with the Administrative Order which the master-hand of its perfect Architect has fashioned.…

Let no one, while this System is still in its infancy, misconceive its character, belittle its significance or misrepresent its purpose. The bedrock on which this Administrative Order is founded is God’s immutable Purpose for mankind in this day. The Source from which it derives its inspiration is no one less than Bahá’u’lláh Himself.… The central, the underlying aim which animates it is the establishment of the New World Order as adumbrated by Bahá’u’lláh. The methods it employs, the standard it inculcates, incline it to neither East nor West, neither Jew nor Gentile, neither rich nor poor, neither white nor colored. Its watchword is the unification of the human race; its standard the “Most Great Peace.” … February 8, 1934.

The contrast between the accumulating evidences of steady consolidation that accompany the rise of the Administrative Order of the Faith of God, and the forces of disintegration which batter at the fabric of a travailing society, is as clear as it is arresting. Both within and outside the Bahá’í world the signs and tokens which, in a mysterious manner, are heralding the birth of that World Order, the establishment of which must signalize the Golden Age of the Cause of God, are growing and multiplying day by day.…

Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh’s own words proclaim it, “will the present day Order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” …

The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh … should … be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man’s collective life on this planet. The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture … should … be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop.…

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system. A mechanism of world intercommunication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvelous swiftness and perfect regularity. A world metropolis will act as the nerve center of a world civilization, the focus towards which the unifying forces of life will converge and from which its energizing influences will radiate. A world language will either be invented or chosen from among the existing languages and will be taught in the schools of all the federated nations as an auxiliary to their mother tongue. A world script, a world literature, a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures, will simplify and facilitate intercourse and understanding among the nations and races of mankind. In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will cooperate, and will harmoniously develop. The press will, under such a system, while giving full scope to the expression of the diversified views and convictions of mankind, cease to be mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public, and will be liberated from the influence of contending governments and peoples. The economic resources of the world will be organized, its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilized, its markets will be coordinated and developed, and the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.

National rivalries, hatred, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and cooperation. The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.

A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources, blending and embodying the ideals of both the East and the West, liberated from the curse of war and its miseries, and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet, a system in which Force is made the servant of Justice, whose life is sustained by its universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation—such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving.…

The whole of mankind is groaning, is dying to be led to unity, and to terminate its age-long martyrdom. And yet it stubbornly refuses to embrace the light and acknowledge the sovereign authority of the one Power that can extricate it from its entanglements, and avert the woeful calamity that threatens to engulf it.…

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.—March 11, 1936.

[The above letters have been published in one volume entitled The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.]

Hide note
Note: