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Title: Century of Light
Author: Baha'i International Community
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Century of Light

by Baha’i International Community

Edition 1, (September 2006)

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The conclusion of the twentieth century provides Bahá’ís with a unique
vantage point. During the past hundred years our world underwent changes
far more profound than any in its preceding history, changes that are, for
the most part, little understood by the present generation. These same
hundred years saw the Bahá’í Cause emerge from obscurity, demonstrating on
a global scale the unifying power with which its Divine origin has endowed
it. As the century drew to its close, the convergence of these two
historical developments became increasingly apparent.

_Century of Light_, prepared under our supervision, reviews these two
processes and the relationship between them, in the context of the Bahá’í
Teachings. We commend it to the thoughtful study of the friends, in the
confidence that the perspectives it opens up will prove both spiritually
enriching and of practical help in sharing with others the challenging
implications of the Revelation brought by Bahá’u’lláh.

The Universal House of Justice

_Naw-Rúz, 158 b.e._


The twentieth century, the most turbulent in the history of the human
race, has reached its end. Dismayed by the deepening moral and social
chaos that marked its course, the generality of the world’s peoples are
eager to leave behind them the memories of the suffering that these
decades brought with them. No matter how frail the foundations of
confidence in the future may seem, no matter how great the dangers looming
on the horizon, humanity appears desperate to believe that, through some
fortuitous conjunction of circumstances, it will nevertheless be possible
to bend the conditions of human life into conformity with prevailing human

In the light of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh such hopes are not merely
illusory, but miss entirely the nature and meaning of the great turning
point through which our world has passed in these crucial hundred years.
Only as humanity comes to understand the implications of what occurred
during this period of history will it be able to meet the challenges that
lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá’ís can make to the
process demands that we ourselves grasp the significance of the historic
transformation wrought by the twentieth century.

What makes this insight possible for us is the light shed by the rising
Sun of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation and the influence it has come to exercise
in human affairs. It is this opportunity that the following pages address.


Let us acknowledge at the outset the magnitude of the ruin that the human
race has brought upon itself during the period of history under review.
The loss of life alone has been beyond counting. The disintegration of
basic institutions of social order, the violation—indeed, the
abandonment—of standards of decency, the betrayal of the life of the mind
through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty, the
invention and deployment of monstrous weapons of mass annihilation, the
bankrupting of entire nations and the reduction of masses of human beings
to hopeless poverty, the reckless destruction of the environment of the
planet—such are only the more obvious in a catalogue of horrors unknown to
even the darkest of ages past. Merely to mention them is to call to mind
the Divine warnings expressed in Bahá’u’lláh’s words of a century ago: “O
heedless ones! Though the wonders of My mercy have encompassed all created
things, both visible and invisible, and though the revelations of My grace
and bounty have permeated every atom of the universe, yet the rod with
which I can chastise the wicked is grievous, and the fierceness of Mine
anger against them terrible.”(1)

Lest any observer of the Cause be tempted to misunderstand such warnings
as only metaphorical, Shoghi Effendi, drawing some of the historical
implications, wrote in 1941:

A tempest, unprecedented in its violence, unpredictable in its course,
catastrophic in its immediate effects, unimaginably glorious in its
ultimate consequences, is at present sweeping the face of the earth. Its
driving power is remorselessly gaining in range and momentum. Its
cleansing force, however much undetected, is increasing with every passing
day. Humanity, gripped in the clutches of its devastating power, is
smitten by the evidences of its resistless fury. It can neither perceive
its origin, nor probe its significance, nor discern its outcome.
Bewildered, agonized and helpless, it watches this great and mighty wind
of God invading the remotest and fairest regions of the earth, rocking its
foundations, deranging its equilibrium, sundering its nations, disrupting
the homes of its peoples, wasting its cities, driving into exile its
kings, pulling down its bulwarks, uprooting its institutions, dimming its
light, and harrowing up the souls of its inhabitants.(2)

                                * * * * *

From the point of view of wealth and influence, “the world” of 1900 was
Europe and, by grudging concession, the United States. Throughout the
planet, Western imperialism was pursuing among the populations of other
lands what it regarded as its “civilizing mission”. In the words of one
historian, the century’s opening decade appeared to be essentially a
continuation of the “long nineteenth century”,(3) an era whose boundless
self-satisfaction was perhaps best epitomized by the celebration in 1897
of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, a parade that rolled for hours
through the streets of London, with an imperial panoply and display of
military power far surpassing anything attempted in past civilizations.

As the century began, there were few, whatever their degree of social or
moral sensitivity, who perceived the catastrophes lying ahead, and few, if
any, who could have conceived their magnitude. The military leadership of
most European nations assumed that war of some kind would break out, but
viewed the prospect with equanimity because of the twin fixed convictions
that it would be short and would be won by their side. To an extent that
seemed little short of miraculous, the international peace movement was
enlisting the support of statesmen, industrialists, scholars, the media,
and influential personalities as unlikely as the tsar of Russia. If the
inordinate increase in armaments seemed ominous, the network of
painstakingly crafted and often overlapping alliances seemed to give
assurance that a general conflagration would be avoided and regional
disputes settled, as they had been through most of the previous century.
This illusion was reinforced by the fact that Europe’s crowned heads—most
of them members of one extended family, and many of them exercising
seemingly decisive political power—addressed one another familiarly by
nicknames, carried on an intimate correspondence, married one another’s
sisters and daughters, and vacationed together throughout long stretches
of each year at one another’s castles, regattas and shooting lodges. Even
the painful disparities in the distribution of wealth were being
energetically—if not very systematically—addressed in Western societies
through legislation designed to restrain the worst of the corporate
freebooting of preceding decades and to meet the most urgent demands of
growing urban populations.

The vast majority of the human family, living in lands outside the Western
world, shared in few of the blessings and little of the optimism of their
European and American brethren. China, despite its ancient civilization
and its sense of itself as the “Middle Kingdom”, had become the hapless
victim of plundering by Western nations and by its modernizing neighbour
Japan. The multitudes in India—whose economy and political life had fallen
so totally under the domination of a single imperial power as to exclude
the usual jockeying for advantage—escaped some of the worst of the abuses
afflicting other lands, but watched impotently as their desperately needed
resources were drained away. The coming agony of Latin America was all too
clearly prefigured in the suffering of Mexico, large sections of which had
been annexed by its great northern neighbour, and whose natural resources
were already attracting the attention of avaricious foreign corporations.
Particularly embarrassing from a Western point of view—because of its
proximity to such brilliant European capitals as Berlin and Vienna—was the
medieval oppression in which the hundred million nominally liberated serfs
in Russia led lives of sullen, hopeless misery. Most tragic of all was the
plight of the inhabitants of the African continent, divided against one
another by artificial boundaries created through cynical bargains among
European powers. It has been estimated that during the first decade of the
twentieth century over a million people in the Congo perished—starved,
beaten, worked literally to death for the profit of their distant masters,
a preview of the fate that was to engulf well over one hundred million of
their fellow human beings across Europe and Asia before the century
reached its end.(4)

These masses of humankind, despoiled and scorned—but representing most of
the earth’s inhabitants—were seen not as protagonists but essentially as
objects of the new century’s much vaunted civilizing process. Despite
benefits conferred on a minority among them, the colonial peoples existed
chiefly to be acted upon—to be used, trained, exploited, Christianized,
civilized, mobilized—as the shifting agendas of Western powers dictated.
These agendas may have been harsh or mild in execution, enlightened or
selfish, evangelical or exploitative, but were shaped by materialistic
forces that determined both their means and most of their ends. To a large
extent, religious and political pieties of various kinds masked both ends
and means from the publics in Western lands, who were thus able to derive
moral satisfaction from the blessings their nations were assumed to be
conferring on less worthy peoples, while themselves enjoying the material
fruits of this benevolence.

To point out the failings of a great civilization is not to deny its
accomplishments. As the twentieth century opened, the peoples of the West
could take justifiable pride in the technological, scientific and
philosophical developments for which their societies had been responsible.
Decades of experimentation had placed in their hands material means that
were still beyond the appreciation of the rest of humanity. Throughout
both Europe and America vast industries had risen, dedicated to
metallurgy, to the manufacturing of chemical products of every kind, to
textiles, to construction and to the production of instruments that
enhanced every aspect of life. A continuous process of discovery, design
and improvement was making accessible power of unimaginable
magnitude—with, alas, ecological consequences equally unimagined at the
time—especially through the use of cheap fuel and electricity. The “era of
the railroad” was far advanced and steamships coursed the seaways of the
world. With the proliferation of telegraph and telephone communication,
Western society anticipated the moment when it would be freed of the
limiting effects that geographical distances had imposed on humankind
since the dawn of history.

Changes taking place at the deeper level of scientific thought were even
more far-reaching in their implications. The nineteenth century had still
been held in the grip of the Newtonian view of the world as a vast
clockwork system, but by the end of the century the intellectual strides
necessary to challenge that view had already been taken. New ideas were
emerging that would lead to the formulation of quantum mechanics; and
before long the revolutionizing effect of the theory of relativity would
call into question beliefs about the phenomenal world that had been
accepted as common sense for centuries. Such breakthroughs were
encouraged—and their influence greatly amplified—by the fact that science
had already changed from an activity of isolated thinkers to the
systematically pursued concern of a large and influential international
community enjoying the amenities of universities, laboratories and
symposia for the exchange of experimental discoveries.

Nor was the strength of Western societies limited to scientific and
technological advances. As the twentieth century opened, Western
civilization was reaping the fruits of a philosophical culture that was
rapidly liberating the energies of its populations, and whose influence
would soon produce a revolutionary impact throughout the entire world. It
was a culture which nurtured constitutional government, prized the rule of
law and respect for the rights of all of society’s members, and held up to
the eyes of all it reached a vision of a coming age of social justice. If
the boasts of liberty and equality that inflated patriotic rhetoric in
Western lands were a far cry from conditions actually prevailing,
Westerners could justly celebrate the advances toward those ideals that
had been accomplished in the nineteenth century.

From a spiritual perspective the age was gripped by a strange, paradoxical
duality. In almost every direction the intellectual horizon was darkened
by clouds of superstition produced by unthinking imitation of earlier
ages. For most of the world’s peoples, the consequences ranged from
profound ignorance about both human potentialities and the physical
universe, to naïve attachment to theologies that bore little or no
relation to experience. Where winds of change did dispel the mists, among
the educated classes in Western lands, inherited orthodoxies were all too
often replaced by the blight of an aggressive secularism that called into
doubt both the spiritual nature of humankind and the authority of moral
values themselves. Everywhere, the secularization of society’s upper
levels seemed to go hand in hand with a pervasive religious obscurantism
among the general population. At the deepest level—because religion’s
influence reaches far into the human psyche and claims for itself a unique
kind of authority—religious prejudices in all lands had kept alive in
successive generations smouldering fires of bitter animosity that would
fuel the horrors of the coming decades.(5)


On this landscape of false confidence and deep despair, of scientific
enlightenment and spiritual gloom, there appeared, as the twentieth
century opened, the luminous figure of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The journey that had
brought Him to this pivotal moment in the history of humankind had led
through more than fifty years of exile, imprisonment and privation, hardly
a month having passed in anything that resembled tranquillity and ease. He
came to it resolved to proclaim to responsive and heedless alike the
establishment on earth of that promised reign of universal peace and
justice that had sustained human hope throughout the centuries. Its
foundation, He declared, would be the unification, in this “century of
light”, of the world’s people:

In this day ... means of communication have multiplied, and the five
continents of the earth have virtually merged into one.... In like manner
all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments,
cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent.... Hence the
unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none
other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious

During the long years of imprisonment and banishment that followed
Bahá’u’lláh’s refusal to serve the political agenda of the Ottoman
authorities, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was entrusted with the management of the Faith’s
affairs and with the responsibility of acting as His Father’s spokesman. A
significant aspect of this work entailed interaction with local and
provincial officials who sought His advice on the problems confronting
them. Not dissimilar needs presented themselves in the Master’s homeland.
As early as 1875, responding to Bahá’u’lláh’s instructions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
addressed to the rulers and people of Persia a treatise entitled _The
Secret of Divine Civilization_, setting out the spiritual principles that
must guide the shaping of their society in the age of humanity’s maturity.
Its opening passage called upon the Iranian people to reflect on the
lesson taught by history about the key to social progress:

Consider carefully: all these highly varied phenomena, these concepts,
this knowledge, these technical procedures and philosophical systems,
these sciences, arts, industries and inventions—all are emanations of the
human mind. Whatever people has ventured deeper into this shoreless sea,
has come to excel the rest. The happiness and pride of a nation consist in
this, that it should shine out like the sun in the high heaven of
knowledge. “Shall they who have knowledge and they who have it not, be
treated alike?”(7)

_The Secret of Divine Civilization_ presaged the guidance that would flow
from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in subsequent decades. After the devastating
loss that followed the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh, the Persian believers
were revived and heartened by a flood of Tablets from the Master, which
provided not only the spiritual sustenance they needed, but leadership in
finding their way through the turmoil that was undermining the established
order of things in their land. These communications, reaching even the
smallest villages across the country, responded to the appeals and
questions of countless individual believers, bringing guidance,
encouragement and assurance. We read, for example, a Tablet addressing
believers in the village of Ki_sh_ih, mentioning by name nearly one
hundred and sixty of them. Of the age now dawning, the Master says: “this
is the century of light,” explaining that the meaning of this image is
acceptance of the principle of oneness and its implications:

My meaning is that the beloved of the Lord must regard every ill-wisher as
a well-wisher.... That is, they must associate with a foe as befitteth a
friend, and deal with an oppressor as beseemeth a kind companion. They
should not gaze upon the faults and transgressions of their foes, nor pay
heed to their enmity, inequity or oppression.(8)

Extraordinarily, the small company of persecuted believers, living in this
remote corner of a land which still remained largely unaffected by the
developments taking place elsewhere in social and intellectual life, are
summoned by this Tablet to raise their eyes above the level of local
concerns and to see the implications of unity on a global scale:

Rather, should they view people in the light of the Blessed Beauty’s call
that the entire human race are servants of the Lord of might and glory, as
He hath brought the whole creation under the purview of His gracious
utterance, and hath enjoined upon us to show forth love and affection,
wisdom and compassion, faithfulness and unity towards all, without any

Here, the call of the Master is not only to a new level of understanding,
but implies the need for commitment and action. In the urgency and
confidence of the language it employs can be felt the power that would
produce the great achievements of the Persian believers in the decades
since then—both in the world-wide promotion of the Cause and in the
acquisition of capacities that advance civilization:

O ye beloved of the Lord! With the utmost joy and gladness, serve ye the
human world, and love ye the human race. Turn your eyes away from
limitations, and free yourselves from restrictions, for ... freedom
therefrom brings about divine blessings and bestowals.

Wherefore, rest ye not, be it for an instant; seek ye not a minute’s
respite nor a moment’s repose. Surge ye even as the billows of a mighty
sea, and roar like unto the leviathan of the ocean of eternity.

Therefore, so long as there be a trace of life in one’s veins, one must
strive and labour, and seek to lay a foundation that the passing of
centuries and cycles may not undermine, and rear an edifice which the
rolling of ages and aeons cannot overthrow—an edifice that shall prove
eternal and everlasting, so that the sovereignty of heart and soul may be
established and secure in both worlds.(10)

Social historians of the future, with a perspective far more dispassionate
and universal than is presently possible, and benefiting from unimpeded
access to all of the primary documentation, will study minutely the
transformation that the Master achieved in these early years. Day after
day, month after month, from a distant exile where He was endlessly
harried by the host of enemies surrounding Him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able not
only to stimulate the expansion of the Persian Bahá’í community, but to
shape its consciousness and collective life. The result was the emergence
of a culture, however localized, that was unlike anything humanity had
ever known. Our century, with all its upheavals and its grandiloquent
claims to create a new order, has no comparable example of the systematic
application of the powers of a single Mind to the building of a
distinctive and successful community that saw its ultimate sphere of work
as the globe itself.

Although suffering intermittent atrocities at the hands of the Muslim
clergy and their supporters—without protection from a succession of
indolent Qájár monarchs—the Persian Bahá’í community found a new lease on
life. The number of believers multiplied in all regions of the country,
persons prominent in the life of society were enrolled, including several
influential members of the clergy, and the forerunners of administrative
institutions emerged in the form of rudimentary consultative bodies. The
importance of the latter development alone would be impossible to
exaggerate. In a land and among a people accustomed for centuries to a
patriarchal system that concentrated all decision-making authority in the
hands of an absolute monarch or _Sh_í‘ih mujtáhids, a community
representing a cross section of that society had broken with the past,
taking into its own hands the responsibility for deciding its collective
affairs through consultative action.

In the society and culture the Master was developing, spiritual energies
expressed themselves in the practical affairs of day-to-day life. The
emphasis in the teachings on education provided the impulse for the
establishment of Bahá’í schools—including the Tarbíyat school for
girls,(11) which gained national renown—in the capital, as well as in
provincial centres. With the assistance of American and European Bahá’í
helpers, clinics and other medical facilities followed. As early as 1925,
communities in a number of cities had instituted classes in Esperanto, in
response to their awareness of the Bahá’í teaching that some form of
auxiliary international language must be adopted. A network of couriers,
reaching across the land, provided the struggling Bahá’í community with
the rudiments of the postal service that the rest of the country so
conspicuously lacked. The changes under way touched the homeliest
circumstances of day-to-day life. In obedience to the laws of the
Kitáb-i-Aqdas, for example, Persian Bahá’ís abandoned the use of the
filthy public baths, prolific in their spread of infection and disease,
and began to rely on showers that used fresh water.

All of these advances, whether social, organizational or practical, owed
their driving force to the moral transformation taking place among the
believers, a transformation that was steadily distinguishing Bahá’ís—even
in the eyes of those hostile to the Faith—as candidates for positions of
trust. That such far-reaching changes could so quickly set one segment of
the Persian population apart from the largely antagonistic majority around
it was a demonstration of the powers released by Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant
with His followers and by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s assumption of the leadership this
Covenant invested uniquely in Him.

Throughout these years Persian political life was in almost constant
turmoil. While Náṣiri’d-Dín _Sh_áh’s immediate successor, Muẓaffari’d-Dín
_Sh_áh, was induced to approve a constitution in 1906, his successor,
Muḥammad-‘Alí _Sh_áh, recklessly dissolved the first two parliaments—in
one case attacking with cannon fire the building where the legislature was
meeting. The so-called “Constitutional Movement” that overthrew him and
compelled the last of the Qájár kings, Aḥmad _Sh_áh, to summon a third
parliament was itself riven by competing factions and shamelessly
manipulated by the _Sh_í‘ih clergy. Efforts by Bahá’ís to play a
constructive role in this process of modernization were repeatedly
frustrated by royalist and popular factions alike, both of which were
inspired by the prevailing religious prejudice and saw in the Bahá’í
community merely a convenient scapegoat. Here again, only a more
politically mature age than our own will be able to appreciate the way in
which the Master—setting an example for future challenges that the Bahá’í
community must inevitably encounter—guided the beleaguered community in
doing all it could to encourage political reform, and then in being
willing to step aside when these efforts were cynically rebuffed.

It was not only through His Tablets that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá exercised this
influence on the rapidly developing Bahá’í community in the cradle of the
Faith. Unlike Westerners, Persian believers were not distinguished from
other peoples of the Near East by dress and appearance, and so travellers
from the cradle of the Faith did not arouse the suspicion of the Ottoman
authorities. Consequently, a steady stream of Persian pilgrims provided
‘Abdu’l-Bahá with another powerful means of inspiring the friends, guiding
their activities, and drawing them ever more deeply into an understanding
of Bahá’u’lláh’s purpose. Some of the greatest names in Persian Bahá’í
history were among those who journeyed to ‘Akká and returned to their
homes prepared to give their lives if necessary for the achievement of the
Master’s vision. The immortal Varqá and his son Rúḥu’lláh were among this
privileged number, as were Ḥájí Mírzá Ḥaydar ‘Alí, Mírzá Abu’l Faḍl, Mírzá
Muḥammad-Taqí Afnán and four distinguished Hands of the Cause,
Ibn-i-Abhar, Ḥájí Mullá Alí Akbar, Adíbu’l-Ulamá and Ibn-i-Aṣdaq. The
spirit that today sustains Persian pioneers in every part of the world and
that plays so creative a role in the building of Bahá’í community life
runs like a straight line through family after family back to those heroic
days. In retrospect, it is apparent that the phenomenon we today know as
the twin processes of expansion and consolidation itself had its origin in
those marvellous years.

Inspired by the Master’s words and the accounts brought back from the Holy
Land, Persian believers arose to undertake travel-teaching activities in
the Far East. During the latter years of Bahá’u’lláh’s Ministry,
communities had been established in India and Burma, and the Faith carried
as far as China; and this work was now reinforced. A demonstration of the
new powers released in the Cause was the erection in the Russian province
of Turkestan, where a vigorous Bahá’í community life had also developed,
of the first Bahá’í House of Worship in the world,(12) a project inspired
by the Master and guided, from its inception, by His advice.

It was this broad range of activities, carried out by an increasingly
confident body of believers and stretching from the Mediterranean to the
China Sea, that built the base of support from which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able
to pursue the promising opportunities which, as the new century opened,
had already begun to unfold in the West. Not the least important feature
of this base was its embrace of representatives of the Orient’s great
diversity of racial, religious and national backgrounds. This achievement
provided ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with the examples on which He would repeatedly draw
in His proclamation to Western audiences of the integrating forces that
had been released through Bahá’u’lláh’s advent.

The greatest victory of these early years was the Master’s success in
constructing on Mount Carmel, on the spot designated for it by Bahá’u’lláh
and through immense effort, a mausoleum for the remains of the Báb, which
had been brought at great risk and difficulty to the Holy Land. Shoghi
Effendi has explained that whereas in past ages the blood of martyrs was
the seed of personal faith, in this day it has constituted the seed of the
administrative institutions of the Cause.(13) Such an insight lends
special meaning to the way in which the Administrative Centre of
Bahá’u’lláh’s World Order would take shape under the shadow of the Shrine
of the Faith’s Martyr-Prophet. Shoghi Effendi sets the Master’s
achievement in global and historical perspective:

For, just as in the realm of the spirit, the reality of the Báb has been
hailed by the Author of the Bahá’í Revelation as “the Point round Whom the
realities of the Prophets and Messengers revolve,” so, on this visible
plane, His sacred remains constitute the heart and center of what may be
regarded as nine concentric circles,(14) paralleling thereby, and adding
further emphasis to the central position accorded by the Founder of our
Faith to One “from Whom God hath caused to proceed the knowledge of all
that was and shall be,” “the Primal Point from which have been generated
all created things.”(15)

The significance in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s own eyes of the mission He had
accomplished at such cost is movingly depicted by Shoghi Effendi:

When all was finished, and the earthly remains of the Martyr-Prophet of
_Sh_íráz were, at long last, safely deposited for their everlasting rest
in the bosom of God’s holy mountain, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who had cast aside His
turban, removed His shoes and thrown off His cloak, bent low over the
still open sarcophagus, His silver hair waving about His head and His face
transfigured and luminous, rested His forehead on the border of the wooden
casket, and, sobbing aloud, wept with such a weeping that all those who
were present wept with Him. That night He could not sleep, so overwhelmed
was He with emotion.(16)

By 1908, the so-called “Young Turk Revolution” had freed not only most of
the Ottoman empire’s political prisoners, but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as well.
Suddenly, the restraints that had kept Him confined to the prison-city of
‘Akká and its immediate surroundings had fallen away, and the Master was
in a position to proceed with an enterprise that Shoghi Effendi was later
to describe as one of the three principal achievements of His ministry:
His public proclamation of the Cause of God in the great population
centres of the Western world.

                                * * * * *

Because of the dramatic character of the events that occurred in North
America and Europe, accounts of the Master’s historic journeys sometimes
tend to overlook the important opening year spent in Egypt. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
arrived there in September 1910, intending to go on directly to Europe,
but was compelled by illness to remain in residence at Ramleh, a suburb of
Alexandria, until August of the following year. As it turned out, the
months that followed were a period of great productivity whose full
effects on the fortunes of the Cause, in the African continent especially,
will be felt for many years to come. To some extent the way had no doubt
been paved by warm admiration for the Master on the part of _Sh_ay_kh_
Muḥammad ‘Abduh, who had met Him on several occasions in Beirut and who
subsequently became Mufti of Egypt and a leading figure at Al-Azhar

An aspect of the Egyptian sojourn that deserves special attention was the
opportunity it provided for the first public proclamation of the Faith’s
message. The relatively cosmopolitan and liberal atmosphere prevailing in
Cairo and Alexandria at the time opened a way for frank and searching
discussions between the Master and prominent figures in the intellectual
world of Sunni Islam. These included clerics, parliamentarians,
administrators and aristocrats. Further, editors and journalists from
influential Arabic-language newspapers, whose information about the Cause
had been coloured by prejudiced reports emanating from Persia and
Constantinople, now had an opportunity to learn the facts of the situation
for themselves. Publications that had been openly hostile changed their
tone. The editors of one such newspaper opened an article on the Master’s
arrival by referring to “His Eminence Mírzá ‘Abbás Effendi, the learned
and erudite Head of the Bahá’ís in ‘Akká and the Centre of authority for
Bahá’ís throughout the world” and expressing appreciation of His visit to
Alexandria.(17) This and other articles paid particular tribute to
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s understanding of Islam and to the principles of unity and
religious tolerance that lay at the heart of His teachings.

Despite the Master’s ill health that had caused it, the Egyptian interlude
proved to be a great blessing. Western diplomats and officials were able
to observe at first-hand the extraordinary success of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s
interaction with leading figures in a region of the Near East that was of
lively interest in European circles. Accordingly, by the time the Master
embarked for Marseilles on 11 August 1911, His fame had preceded Him.


A Tablet addressed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to an American believer in 1905
contains a statement that is as illuminating as it is touching. Referring
to His situation following the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
spoke of a letter He had received from America at “a time when an ocean of
trials and tribulations was surging...”:

Such was our state when a letter came to us from the American friends.
They had covenanted together, so they wrote, to remain at one in all
things, and ... had pledged themselves to make sacrifices in the pathway
of the love of God, thus to achieve eternal life. At the very moment when
this letter was read, together with the signatures at its close,
‘Abdu’l-Bahá experienced a joy so vehement that no pen can describe

An appreciation of the circumstances in which the expansion of the Cause
in the West occurred is vital for present-day Bahá’ís, and for many
reasons. It helps us abstract ourselves from the culture of coarse and
intrusive communication that has become so commonplace in present-day
society as to pass almost unnoticed. It draws to our attention the
gentleness with which the Master chose to introduce to His Western
audiences the concepts of human nature and human society revealed by
Bahá’u’lláh, concepts revolutionary in their implications and entirely
outside His hearers’ experience. It explains the delicacy with which He
used metaphors or relied on historical examples, the frequent indirectness
of His approach, the intimacy He could summon up at will, and the
apparently limitless patience with which He responded to questions, many
of whose assumptions about reality had long since lost whatever validity
they might once have possessed.

Yet another insight that a detached examination of the historical
situation to which the Master addressed Himself in the West helps provide
for our generation is an appreciation of the spiritual greatness of those
who responded to Him. These souls answered His summons in spite, not
because, of the liberal and economically advanced world they knew, a world
they no doubt cherished and valued, and in which they had necessarily to
carry on their daily lives. Their response arose from a level of
consciousness that recognized, even if sometimes only dimly, the desperate
need of the human race for spiritual enlightenment. To remain steadfast in
their commitment to this insight required of these early believers—on
whose sacrifice of self much of the foundation of the present-day Bahá’í
communities both in the West and many other lands were laid—that they
resist not only family and social pressures, but also the easy
rationalizations of the world-view in which they had been raised and to
which everything around them insistently exposed them. There was a heroism
about the steadfastness of these early Western Bahá’ís that is, in its own
way, as affecting as that of their Persian co-religionists who, in these
same years, were facing persecution and death for the Faith they had

In the forefront of the Westerners who responded to the Master’s summons
were the little groups of intrepid believers whom Shoghi Effendi has
hailed as “God-intoxicated pilgrims” and who had the privilege of visiting
‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the prison-city of ‘Akká, of seeing for themselves the
luminosity of His Person and of hearing from His own lips words that had
the power to transform human life. The effect on these believers has been
expressed by May Maxwell:

“Of that first meeting,” ... “I can remember neither joy nor pain, nor
anything that I can name. I had been carried suddenly to too great a
height, my soul had come in contact with the Divine Spirit, and this
force, so pure, so holy, so mighty, had overwhelmed me....”(19)

Their return to their homes became, Shoghi Effendi explains, “the signal
for an outburst of systematic and sustained activity, which ... spread its
ramifications over Western Europe and the states and provinces of the
North American continent....”(20) Fuelling their endeavours and those of
their fellow believers, and drawing into the Cause growing numbers of new
adherents, was a flood of Tablets addressed by the Master to recipients on
both sides of the Atlantic, messages that threw open the imagination to
the concepts, principles and ideals of God’s new Revelation. The power of
this creative force can be felt in the words with which the first American
believer, Thornton Chase, sought to describe what he was seeing:

His [the Master’s] own writings, spreading like white-winged doves from
the Center of His Presence to the ends of the earth, are so many (hundreds
pouring forth daily) that it is an impossibility for him to have given
time to them for searching thought or to have applied the mental processes
of the scholar to them. They flow like streams from a gushing

These sentiments add their own perspective to the determination with which
the Master arose to undertake a venture so ambitious as to dismay many of
those immediately around Him. Setting aside concerns expressed about His
advanced age, His ill health, and the physical disabilities left by
decades of imprisonment, He set out on a series of journeys that would
last some three years, carrying Him eventually to the Pacific coast of the
North American continent. The stresses and risks of international travel
in the early years of the century were the least of the obstacles to the
realization of the objectives He had set Himself. In the words of Shoghi

He Who, in His own words, had entered prison as a youth and left it an old
man, Who never in His life had faced a public audience, had attended no
school, had never moved in Western circles, and was unfamiliar with
Western customs and language, had arisen not only to proclaim from pulpit
and platform, in some of the chief capitals of Europe and in the leading
cities of the North American continent, the distinctive verities enshrined
in His Father’s Faith, but to demonstrate as well the Divine origin of the
Prophets gone before Him, and to disclose the nature of the tie binding
them to that Faith.(22)

                                * * * * *

No more brilliant a stage for the opening act of this great drama could
have been desired than London, capital city of the largest and most
cosmopolitan empire the world has ever known. In the eyes of the little
groups of believers who had made the practical arrangements and who longed
for the sight of His face, the trip was a triumph far surpassing their
brightest hopes. Public officials, scholars, writers, editors,
industrialists, leaders of reform movements, members of the British
aristocracy, and influential clergymen of many denominations eagerly
sought Him out, invited Him to their platforms, classrooms, homes and
pulpits, and showered appreciation on the views He expounded. On Sunday,
10 September 1911, the Master spoke for the first time to a public
audience anywhere, from the pulpit of the City Temple. His words evoked
for His hearers the vision of a new age in the evolution of civilization:

This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are
luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise....
You are loosed from ancient superstitions which have kept men ignorant,
destroying the foundation of true humanity.

The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of
mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease
between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come;
the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as

After an additional two months’ stay in Paris and a return to Alexandria
for a winter sojourn and the recuperation of His health, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
sailed on 25 March 1912 to New York City, arriving on 11 April of that
year. At even the simplest physical level, a programme packed with
hundreds of public addresses, conferences and private talks in over forty
cities across North America and an additional nineteen in Europe, some of
them visited more than once, was a feat that may well have no parallel in
modern history. On both continents, but especially in North America,
‘Abdu’l-Bahá received a highly appreciative welcome from distinguished
audiences devoted to such concerns as peace, women’s rights, racial
equality, social reform and moral development. On an almost daily basis,
His talks and interviews received wide coverage in mass-circulation
newspapers. He Himself was later to write that He had “observed all the
doors open ... and the ideal power of the Kingdom of God removing every
obstacle and obstruction.”(24)

The openness with which He was met permitted ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to proclaim
unambiguously the social principles of the new Revelation. Shoghi Effendi
has summed up the truths thus presented:

The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or
tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and
fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the
condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class
or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science;
the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human
kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the
adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes
of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the
adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work,
performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the
glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of
religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and
the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal
of all mankind—these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine
polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the
masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys.(25)

At the heart of the Master’s message was the announcement that the
long-promised Day for the unification of humanity and the establishment on
earth of the Kingdom of God had come. That Kingdom, as unveiled in
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s letters and talks, owed nothing whatever to the
other-worldly assumptions familiar from the teachings of traditional
religion. Rather, the Master proclaimed the coming of age of humankind and
the emergence of a global civilization in which the development of the
whole range of human potentialities will be the fruit of the interaction
between universal spiritual values, on the one hand, and, on the other,
material advances that were even then still undreamed of.

The means to achieve the goal, He said, had already come into existence.
What was needed was the will to act and the faith to persist:

All of us know that international peace is good, that it is the cause of
life, but volition and action are necessary. Inasmuch as this century is
the century of light, capacity for achieving peace has been assured. It is
certain that these ideas will be spread among men to such a degree that
they will result in action.(26)

Although expressed with unfailing courtesy and consideration, the
principles of the new Revelation were set out uncompromisingly in both
private and public encounters. Invariably, the Master’s actions were as
eloquent as the words He used. In the United States, for example, nothing
could have more clearly communicated Bahá’í belief in the oneness of
religion than ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s readiness to include references to the
Prophet Muḥammad in addresses to Christian audiences and His energetic
vindication of the divine origin of both Christianity and Islam to the
congregation at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco. His ability to inspire
in women of all ages confidence that they possessed spiritual and
intellectual capacities fully equal to those of men, His unprovocative but
clear demonstration of the meaning of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on racial
oneness by welcoming black as well as white guests at His own dinner table
and the tables of His prominent hostesses, and His insistence on the
overriding importance of unity in all aspects of Bahá’í endeavour—such
demonstrations of the way in which the spiritual and practical aspects of
life must interact threw open for the believers windows on a new world of
possibilities. The spirit of unconditional love in which these challenges
were phrased succeeded in overcoming the fears and uncertainties of those
whom the Master addressed.

Greater yet than the effort expended on His public exposition of the Cause
was the time and energy the Master devoted to deepening the believers’
understanding of the spiritual truths of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. In city
after city, from early morning to late at night, the hours that were not
taken up by the public demands of His mission were given over to
responding to the questions of the friends, meeting their needs, and
infusing into them a spirit of confidence in the contributions each could
make to the promotion of the Cause they had embraced. His visit to Chicago
provided the opportunity for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to lay, with His own hands, the
cornerstone of the first Bahá’í House of Worship in the West, a project
inspired by the one already under way in ‘I_sh_qábád and likewise
encouraged from the moment of its conception by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

The Ma_sh_riqu’l-A_dh_kár is one of the most vital institutions in the
world, and it hath many subsidiary branches. Although it is a House of
Worship, it is also connected with a hospital, a drug dispensary, a
traveler’s hospice, a school for orphans, and a university for advanced
studies.... My hope is that the Ma_sh_riqu’l-A_dh_kár will now be
established in America, and that gradually the hospital, the school, the
university, the dispensary and the hospice, all functioning according to
the most efficient and orderly procedures, will follow.(27)

As with the process simultaneously unfolding in Persia, only future
historians will be able to appreciate adequately the creative power of
this dimension of the Western trips. Memoirs and letters have testified to
the way in which even brief encounters with the Master were to sustain
countless Western Bahá’ís through the years of effort and sacrifice that
followed, as they struggled to expand and consolidate the Faith. Without
such an intervention by the Centre of the Covenant Himself, it is
impossible to imagine little groups of Western believers—lacking entirely
the spiritual heritage that their Persian co-religionists derived from the
long involvement of parents and grandparents in the heroic events of Bábí
and early Bahá’í history—being able so quickly to grasp what the Cause
required of them and to undertake the daunting tasks involved.

His hearers were summoned to become the loving and confident agents of a
great civilizing process, whose pivot is recognition of the oneness of the
human race. In arising to undertake their mission, He promised that they
would find unlocked in both themselves and others entirely new capacities
with which God has in this Day endowed the human race:

Ye must become the very soul of the world, the living spirit in the body
of the children of men. In this wondrous Age, at this time when the
Ancient Beauty, the Most Great Name, bearing unnumbered gifts, hath risen
above the horizon of the world, the Word of God hath infused such awesome
power into the inmost essence of humankind that He hath stripped men’s
human qualities of all effect, and hath, with His all-conquering might,
unified the peoples in a vast sea of oneness.(28)

Nothing perhaps testifies so strikingly to the response the believers made
to this appeal than the fact that the unity established among them did not
inhibit their vivid individual ways of expressing the truths of the Faith.
The relationship between the individual and the community has always been
one of the most challenging issues in the development of society. One has
only to read, even cursorily, accounts of the lives of the early Bahá’ís
in the West to become aware of the high degree of individuality that
characterized many of them, particularly the most active and creative. Not
infrequently, they had found the Faith only after intensive investigation
of various spiritual and social movements current at the time, and this
broad understanding of the concerns and interests of their contemporaries
no doubt helped make them such effective teachers of the Faith. It is
equally clear, however, that the wide range of expression and
understanding among them did not prevent them or their fellow believers
from contributing to building a collective unity that was the chief
attraction of the Cause. As the memoirs and historical accounts of the
period make clear, the secret of this balancing of individual and
community was the spiritual bond connecting all believers to the words and
example of the Master. In an important sense ‘Abdu’l-Bahá _was_, for all
of them, the Bahá’í Cause.

No objective review of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s mission to the West can fail to take
into account the sobering fact that only a small number of those who had
accepted the Faith—and infinitely fewer among the public audiences who had
thronged to hear His words—derived from these priceless opportunities more
than a relatively dim understanding of the implications of His message.
Appreciating these limitations on the part of His hearers, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
did not hesitate to introduce into His relations with Western believers
actions that summoned them to a level of consciousness far above mere
social liberalism and tolerance. One example that must stand for a range
of such interventions was His gentle but dramatic act in encouraging the
marriage of Louis Gregory and Louise Mathew—the one black, the other
white. The initiative set a standard for the American Bahá’í community as
to the real meaning of racial integration, however timid and slow its
members were in responding to the core implications of the challenge.

Even without a deep understanding of the Master’s goals, those who
embraced His message set out, often at great personal cost, to give
practical expression to the principles He taught. Commitment to the cause
of international peace; the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty
that were undermining the unity of society; the overcoming of national,
racial and other prejudices; the encouragement of equality in the
education of boys and girls; the need to shake off the shackles of ancient
dogmas that were inhibiting investigation of reality—these principles for
the advancement of civilization had made a powerful impression. What few,
if any, of the Master’s hearers grasped—perhaps could have grasped—was the
revolutionary change in the very structure of society and the willing
submission of human nature to Divine Law that, in the final analysis, can
alone produce the necessary changes in attitude and behaviour.

                                * * * * *

The key to this vision of the coming transformation of the individual and
social life of humankind was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s proclamation, shortly after
His arrival in North America, of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and of the central
part He Himself had been called on to play in it. In the Master’s own

As to the most great characteristic of the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, a
specific teaching not given by any of the Prophets of the past: It is the
ordination and appointment of the Center of the Covenant. By this
appointment and provision He has safeguarded and protected the religion of
God against differences and schisms, making it impossible for anyone to
create a new sect or faction of belief.(29)

Choosing New York City for His purpose—and designating it “the City of the
Covenant”—‘Abdu’l-Bahá unveiled for Western believers the devolution of
authority made by the Founder of their Faith for the definitive
interpretation of His Revelation. A highly regarded believer, Lua
Getsinger, had been called on by the Master to prepare the group of
Bahá’ís who had gathered in the house where He was temporarily residing
for this historic announcement, following which He Himself went downstairs
and spoke in general terms about some of the implications of the Covenant.
Juliet Thompson, who, with one of the Persian translators, had been in the
upstairs room at the time this mission had been given to her friend, has
left an account of the circumstances. She quotes ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as saying:

..._I am the Covenant_, appointed by Bahá’u’lláh. And no one can refute
His Word. This is the Testament of Bahá’u’lláh. You will find it in the
Holy Book of Aqdas. Go forth and proclaim, “This is _the Covenant of God_
in your midst.”(30)

Conceived by Bahá’u’lláh as the Instrument which, in the words of Shoghi
Effendi, was “to perpetuate the influence of [the] Faith, insure its
integrity, safeguard it from schism, and stimulate its world-wide
expansion,”(31) the Covenant had been violated by members of Bahá’u’lláh’s
own family almost immediately after His ascension. Recognizing that the
authority invested in the Master by the Kitáb-i-‘Ahd, the Tablet of the
Branch and related documents frustrated their private hopes to turn the
Cause to their personal advantage, these persons began a persistent
campaign to undermine His position, first in the Holy Land and then in
Persia, where the bulk of the Bahá’í community was concentrated. When
these schemes failed, they next sought to manipulate the fears of the
Ottoman government and the avarice of its representatives in Palestine.
This hope too collapsed when the “Young Turk Revolution” overthrew the
regime in Constantinople, hanging some thirty-one of its leading
officials, including several who had been implicated in the plans of the

In the West, during the early years of the Master’s ministry,
representatives sent by Him had already successfully countered the
machinations of Ibrahim _Kh_ayru’lláh—ironically, the individual who had
introduced many of the American believers to the Cause—who had aimed at
securing a position of leadership through association with the
Covenant-breakers in the Holy Family. Such experiences had doubtless
prepared the Western believers for the Master’s formal proclamation of His
station and for the firmness with which He enjoined on believers avoidance
of any involvement with such agents of division: “Certain weak,
capricious, malicious and ignorant souls ... have striven to efface the
Divine Covenant and Testament, and render the clear water muddy so that in
it they might fish.(32) It would be only gradually, however, as the new
communities struggled to overcome differences of opinion and resist the
perennial human temptation to factionalism, that the implications of this
great organizing law of the new Dispensation would emerge.

While laying out in both public addresses and private discussions the
vision of a world of unity and peace that the Revelation of God for our
day will bring into being, the Master warned emphatically of the dangers
that lay on the immediate horizon—both for the Faith and for the world.
For both, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá foresaw, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, a “winter
of unprecedented severity”.

For the Cause of God, that winter would entail heartbreaking betrayals of
the Covenant. In North America, the inconstancy of a small number of
individuals, frustrated in their aspirations for personal leadership,
remained an ongoing source of difficulty for the community, undermining
the faith of some and causing others simply to drift away from
participation in the Faith. In Persia, too, the faith of the friends was
repeatedly tested by the schemes of ambitious individuals suddenly
awakened to the possibilities for self-aggrandizement they believed they
saw in the successes attending the Master’s work in the West. In both
cases, the consequences of such defections were ultimately to deepen the
devotion of the firm believers.

As for humanity in general, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá warned in ominous terms of the
catastrophe that He saw approaching. While emphasizing the urgency of
efforts at reconciliation that might alleviate in some measure the
suffering of the world’s people, He left His hearers in no doubt of the
magnitude of the danger. In one of the major newspapers in Montreal, where
press coverage of the trip was particularly comprehensive, it was

“All Europe is an armed camp. These warlike preparations will necessarily
culminate in a great war. The very armaments themselves are productive of
war. This great arsenal must go ablaze. There is nothing of the nature of
prophecy about such a view”, said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; “it is based on reasoning

On 5 December 1912, the Figure who had been hailed across North America as
“the Apostle of Peace” sailed from New York for Liverpool. After
relatively brief stays in London and other British centres, He visited
several continental cities, again devoting several weeks to Paris, where
He had available the services of Hippolyte Dreyfus, whose written Arabic
and Persian met the Master’s requirements. As the recognized cultural
capital of continental Europe, Paris was a focal centre for visitors from
many parts of the world, including the Orient. While the talks delivered
during His two extended visits to the city make frequent reference to the
great social issues discussed elsewhere, they seem particularly
distinguished by an intimate spirituality that must have profoundly
touched the hearts of those privileged to meet Him:

Lift up your hearts above the present and look with eyes of faith into the
future! Today the seed is sown, the grain falls upon the earth, but behold
the day will come when it shall rise a glorious tree and the branches
thereof shall be laden with fruit. Rejoice and be glad that this day has
dawned, try to realize its power, for it is indeed wonderful!(34)

On the morning of 13 June 1913, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá embarked at Marseilles on the
steamer _S. S. Himalaya, _arriving at Port Said in Egypt four days later.
What Shoghi Effendi has called “His historic journeys” ended with His
return to Haifa on 5 December 1913.

                                * * * * *

Two years, almost to the day, after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statement to the editor
of the _Montreal Daily Star_, the world that had enjoyed so intoxicating a
sense of self-confidence and whose foundations had appeared impregnable,
collapsed abruptly. The catastrophe is popularly associated with the
murder in Sarajevo of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian
empire, and certainly the train of blunders, reckless threats and mindless
appeals to “honour” that led directly to World War I was ignited by this
relatively minor event. In reality, however, as the Master had pointed
out, preliminary “rumblings” during the entire first decade of the century
should have alerted European leaders to the fragility of the existing

In the years 1904-1905, the Japanese and Russian empires had gone to war
with a violence that led to the destruction of virtually the entire naval
forces of the latter power and its surrender of territories it regarded as
vital to its interests, a humiliation that was to have long-lasting
domestic and international repercussions. On two occasions during these
opening years of the century, war between France and Germany over
imperialist designs in North Africa was narrowly averted only through the
self-interested intervention of other powers. In 1911 Italian ambitions
similarly provoked a dangerous threat to international peace by the
seizure from the Ottoman empire of what is now Libya. International
instability had been further deepened— as the Master had also warned—when
Germany, feeling constrained by a growing web of hostile alliances,
embarked on a massive naval building programme aimed at eliminating the
previously accepted British lead.

Exacerbating these conflicts were tensions among the subject peoples of
the Romanov, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. Waiting only for some turn of
events that would break the grip of the ramshackle systems that suppressed
them, Balts, Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Greeks, Albanians, Bulgars, Romanians,
Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, and a host of other nationalities looked forward
eagerly to their day of liberation. Tirelessly exploiting this network of
fissures in the existing order were a multitude of conspiracies,
resistance groups and separatist organizations. Inspired by ideologies
ranging from an almost incoherent anarchism at one extreme to sharply
honed racist and nationalist obsessions at the other, these underground
forces shared one naïve conviction: if the particular part of the
prevailing order that had become their target could somehow be brought
down, the inherent nobility of the segment of humankind that supported
their aims—or the assumed nobility of humankind in general—would by itself
ensure a new era of freedom and justice.

Alone among these would-be agents of violent change one broadly based
movement was proceeding systematically and with ruthless clarity of
purpose towards the goal of world revolution. The Communist Party,
deriving both its intellectual thrust and an unshakeable confidence in its
ultimate triumph from the writings of the nineteenth century ideologue
Karl Marx, had succeeded in establishing groups of committed supporters
throughout Europe and various other countries. Convinced that the genius
of its master had demonstrated beyond question the essentially material
nature of the forces that had given rise to both human consciousness and
social organization, the Communist movement dismissed the validity of both
religion and “bourgeois” moral standards. In its view, faith in God was a
neurotic weakness indulged in by the human race, a weakness that had
merely permitted successive ruling classes to manipulate superstition as
an instrument for enslaving the masses.

To the leaders of the world, blindly edging their way towards the
universal conflagration which pride and folly had prepared, the great
strides being made by science and technology represented chiefly a means
of gaining military advantage over their rivals. The European opponents of
the nations concerned, however, were not the poverty-stricken and largely
uneducated colonial populations whom they had been able to subject. The
false confidence that military hardware thus inspired led inexorably to a
race to equip armies and navies with the most advanced of modern weaponry,
and to do so on as massive a scale as possible. Machine guns, long-range
cannon, “dreadnoughts”, submarines, landmines, poison gas and the
possibility of equipping airplanes for bombing attacks emerged as features
of what one commentator has termed the “technology of death”.(35) All of
these instruments of annihilation would, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had warned, be
deployed and refined during the course of the coming conflict.

Science and technology were also exerting other, more subtle pressures on
the prevailing order. Large-scale industrial production, fuelled by the
arms race, had accelerated the movement of populations into urban centres.
By the end of the preceding century, this process was already undermining
inherited standards and loyalties, exposing growing numbers of people to
novel ideas for the bringing about of social change, and exciting mass
appetites for material benefits previously available only to elite
segments of society. Even under relatively autocratic systems, the public
was beginning to perceive the extent to which civil authority was
dependent for its effectiveness on its ability to win broad popular
support. These social developments would have unforeseen and far-reaching
consequences. As war would drag endlessly on and unthinking faith in its
simplicities come into question, millions of men in conscript armies on
both sides would begin to see their sufferings as meaningless in
themselves and fruitless in terms of their own and their families’

Beyond these implications of technological and economic change, scientific
advancement seemed to encourage easy assumptions about human nature, the
almost unnoticed overlay that Bahá’u’lláh has termed “the obscuring dust
of all acquired knowledge”.(36) These unexamined views communicated
themselves to ever-widening audiences. Sensationalism in the popular
press, fiery debates between scientists or scholars, on the one hand, and
theologians or influential clergymen, on the other, along with the rapid
spread of public education, continued to undermine the authority of
accepted religious doctrines, as well as of prevailing moral standards.

These seismic forces of the new century combined to make the situation
facing the Western world in 1914 intensely volatile. When the great
conflagration did break out, therefore, the nightmare far surpassed the
worst fears of thoughtful minds. It would serve no purpose here to review
the exhaustively analyzed cataclysm of World War I. The statistics
themselves remain almost beyond the ability of the human mind to
encompass: an estimated sixty million men eventually being thrown into the
most horrific inferno that history had ever known, eight million of them
perishing in the course of the war and an additional ten million or more
being permanently disabled by crippling injuries, burned-out lungs and
appalling disfigurements.(37) Historians have suggested that the total
financial cost may have reached thirty billion dollars, wiping out a
substantial portion of the total capital wealth of Europe.

Even such massive losses do not begin to suggest the full scope of the
ruin. One of the considerations that long held back President Woodrow
Wilson from proposing to the United States Congress the declaration of war
that had by then become virtually inescapable was his awareness of the
moral damage that would ensue. Not the least of the distinctions that
characterized this extraordinary man—a statesman whose vision both
‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi have praised—was his understanding of the
brutalization of human nature that would be the worst legacy of the
tragedy that was by then engulfing Europe, a legacy beyond human capacity
to reverse.(38)

Reflection on the magnitude of the suffering experienced by humankind in
the war’s four years—and the resulting setback to the long, painful
process of the civilizing of human nature—lends tragic force to words the
Master had addressed only two or three years earlier to audiences in such
European cities as London, Paris, Vienna, Budapest and Stuttgart, as well
as in North America. Speaking one evening in the home of Mr. and Mrs.
Sutherland Maxwell in Montreal, He had said:

Today the world of humanity is walking in darkness because it is out of
touch with the world of God. That is why we do not see the signs of God in
the hearts of men. The power of the Holy Spirit has no influence. When a
divine spiritual illumination becomes manifest in the world of humanity,
when divine instruction and guidance appear, then enlightenment follows, a
new spirit is realized within, a new power descends, and a new life is
given. It is like the birth from the animal kingdom into the kingdom of
man.... I will pray, and you must pray, likewise, that such heavenly
bounty may be realized; that strife and enmity may be banished, warfare
and bloodshed taken away; that hearts may attain ideal communication and
that all people may drink from the same fountain.(39)

The vindictive peace treaty, imposed by the Allied powers on their
defeated enemies, succeeded only, as both ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi
have pointed out, in planting the seeds of another, far more terrible
conflict. The ruinous reparations demanded of the vanquished —and the
injustice that required them to accept the full guilt for a war for which
all parties had been, to one degree or another, responsible—were among the
factors that would prepare demoralized peoples in Europe to embrace
totalitarian promises of relief which they might not otherwise have

Ironically, no matter how harsh were the reparations required of the
defeated, the supposed victors awoke to the appalled realization that
their triumph—and the demand for unconditional surrender that had driven
it—had come at an equally crippling price. Staggering war debts ended
forever the economic dominance which these European nations had acquired
through three centuries of imperialist exploitation of the rest of the
planet. The deaths of millions of young men who would have been urgently
needed to meet the challenges of the coming decades was a loss that could
never be recovered. Indeed, Europe itself—which only four brief years
earlier had represented the apparent summit of civilization and world
influence—lost at one stroke this pre-eminence, and began the inexorable
slide during the following decades toward the status of an auxiliary to a
rising new centre of power in North America.

Initially, it seemed that the vision of the future conceived by Woodrow
Wilson would now be realized. In part, this proved to be the case as
subject peoples throughout Europe gained the freedom to work out their own
destinies through the emergence from the ruin of the former empires of a
series of new nation-states. Further, the president’s “Fourteen Points”
briefly endowed his public statements with so great a moral authority in
the minds of millions of Europeans that not even the most recalcitrant of
his fellow leaders among the Allied powers could entirely disregard his
wishes. Despite months of wrangling over colonies, borders, and clauses in
the text of the peace treaty, the Versailles settlement eventually
incorporated an attenuated form of the proposed League of Nations, an
institution which it was hoped could adjust future disputes between
nations and harmonize international affairs.

Shoghi Effendi’s commentary on the significance of this historic
initiative commands reflection on the part of every Bahá’í who seeks to
understand the events of this turbulent century. Describing two closely
interrelated developments that are associated with the dawn of world
peace, he lays emphasis on the fact that they are “destined to culminate,
in the fullness of time, in a single glorious consummation”.(40) The
first, the Guardian describes as associated with the mission of the Bahá’í
community in the North American continent; the second, with the destiny of
the United States as a nation. Speaking of this latter phenomenon, which
dated back to the outbreak of the first world war, Shoghi Effendi writes:

It received its initial impetus through the formulation of President
Wilson’s Fourteen Points, closely associating for the first time that
republic with the fortunes of the Old World. It suffered its first setback
through the dissociation of that republic from the newly born League of
Nations which that president had labored to create.... It must, however
long and tortuous the way, lead, through a series of victories and
reverses, to the political unification of the Eastern and Western
Hemispheres, to the emergence of a world government and the establishment
of the Lesser Peace, as foretold by Bahá’u’lláh and foreshadowed by the
Prophet Isaiah. It must, in the end, culminate in the unfurling of the
banner of the Most Great Peace, in the Golden Age of the Dispensation of

How tragic, therefore, was the fate of the conception that had inspired
the efforts of the American president. As soon became apparent, the League
had been stillborn. Although it included such features as a legislature, a
judiciary, an executive, and a supporting bureaucracy, it had been denied
the authority vital to the work it was ostensibly intended to perform.
Locked into the nineteenth century’s conception of untrammelled national
sovereignty, it could take decisions only with the unanimous assent of the
member states, a requirement largely ruling out effective action.(42) The
hollowness of the system was exposed, as well, by its failure to include
some of the world’s most powerful states: Germany had been rejected as a
defeated nation held responsible for the war, Russia was initially denied
entrance because of its Bolshevik regime, and the United States itself
refused—as a result of narrow political partisanship in Congress—either to
join the League or to ratify the treaty. Ironically, even the half-hearted
efforts made to protect ethnic minorities living in the newly created
nation-states proved eventually to be little more than weapons to be used
in Europe’s continuing fratricidal conflicts.

In sum, at precisely the moment in human history when an unprecedented
outbreak of violence had undermined the inherited bulwarks of civilized
behaviour, the political leadership of the Western world had emasculated
the one alternative system of international order to which experience of
this catastrophe had given birth and which alone could have alleviated the
far greater suffering that lay ahead. In the prophetic words of
‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Peace, Peace ... the lips of potentates and peoples
unceasingly proclaim, whereas the fire of unquenched hatreds still
smoulders in their hearts.” “The ills from which the world now suffers,”
He added in 1920, “will multiply; the gloom which envelops it will
deepen.... The vanquished Powers will continue to agitate. They will
resort to every measure that may rekindle the flame of war.”(43)

                                * * * * *

As war’s inferno was engulfing the world, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned His
attention to the one great task remaining in His ministry, that of
ensuring the proclamation to the remotest corners of the Earth of the
message which had been neglected—or opposed—in Islamic and Western society
alike. The instrument He devised for this purpose was the Divine Plan laid
out in fourteen great Tablets, four of them addressed to the Bahá’í
community of North America and ten subsidiary ones addressed to five
specific segments of that community. Together with Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet of
Carmel and the Master’s Will and Testament, the Tablets of the Divine Plan
were described by Shoghi Effendi as three of the “Charters” of the Cause.
Revealed during the darkest days of the war, in 1916 and 1917, the Divine
Plan summoned the small body of American and Canadian believers to assume
the role of leadership in establishing the Cause of God throughout the
planet. The implications of the trust were awe-inspiring. In the words of
the Master:

The hope which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá cherishes for you is that the same success
which has attended your efforts in America may crown your endeavors in
other parts of the world, that through you the fame of the Cause of God
may be diffused throughout the East and the West, and the advent of the
Kingdom of the Lord of Hosts be proclaimed in all the five continents of
the globe. The moment this Divine Message is carried forward by the
American believers from the shores of America, and is propagated through
the continents of Europe, of Asia, of Africa and of Australia, and as far
as the islands of the Pacific, this community will find itself securely
established upon the throne of an everlasting dominion. Then will all the
peoples of the world witness that this community is spiritually illumined
and divinely guided. Then will the whole earth resound with the praises of
its majesty and greatness....(44)

Shoghi Effendi reminds us that this historic mission, described by him as
“the birthright of the North American Bahá’í Community”,(45) is rooted in
the words of the Twin Manifestations of God to humanity’s age of maturity.
It appeared first in the words of the Báb, who called on the “peoples of
the West” to “issue forth from your cities”, to “aid God ere the Day when
the Lord of mercy shall come down unto you in the shadow of the
clouds...”, and to become “as true brethren in the one and indivisible
religion of God, free from distinction,... so that ye find yourselves
reflected in them, and they in you”.(46) In His summons to the “Rulers of
America and the Presidents of the Republics therein”, Bahá’u’lláh Himself
delivered a mandate that has no parallel in any of His other addresses to
world leaders: “Bind ye the broken with the hands of justice, and crush
the oppressor who flourisheth with the rod of the commandments of your
Lord, the Ordainer, the All-Wise.”(47) It was Bahá’u’lláh, too, who
enunciated one of the most profound truths about the process by which
civilization has evolved: “In the East the light of His Revelation hath
broken; in the West have appeared the signs of His dominion. Ponder this
in your hearts, O people....”(48)

Although the Divine Plan would, as the Guardian was later to say, “be held
in abeyance” until the system necessary to its execution had been brought
into being, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had selected, empowered and mandated a company of
believers who would take the lead in launching the enterprise. His own
life was now swiftly moving to its end, but the three years left to Him
after the conclusion of the world war seemed, in retrospect, to provide a
foretaste of the victories that the Cause itself would know as the century
unfolded. The changed conditions in the Holy Land freed the Master to
pursue His work unhampered and created the conditions in which the
brilliance of His mind and spirit could exercise their influence on
government officials, visiting dignitaries of every kind, and the various
communities making up the population of the Holy Land. The Mandate Power
itself sought to express its appreciation of the unifying effect of His
example and the philanthropic work He did by conferring on Him a
knighthood.(49) More importantly, a renewed flow of pilgrims and of
Tablets to Bahá’í communities of both East and West stimulated an
expansion in the teaching work and a deepening of the friends’
understanding of the implications of the Faith’s message.

Nothing perhaps illustrated so dramatically the spiritual triumph the
Master had won at the World Centre of the Faith than the events in Haifa
that occurred immediately after His ascension in the early hours of 28
November 1921. The following day a vast concourse of thousands of people,
representing the variegated races and sects of the region, followed the
funeral cortège up the slopes of Mount Carmel in a state of unaffected
grief such as the city had never before witnessed. It was led by
representatives of the British government, members of the diplomatic
community, and the heads of all of the religious bodies in the area,
several of whom participated in the service at the Shrine of the Báb. So
unrestrained and unified an outburst of mourning reflected a sudden
awareness of the loss of a Figure whose example had served as a focal
centre of unity in an angry and divided land. In itself, it served for all
with eyes to see as a compelling vindication of the truth of the oneness
of humankind which the Master had tirelessly proclaimed.


With the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Apostolic Age of the Cause reached
its end. The Divine intervention that had begun seventy-seven years
earlier on the night the Báb declared His mission to Mulla Ḥusayn—and
‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself was born—had completed its work. It had been, in the
words of Shoghi Effendi, “a period whose splendours no victories in this
or any future age, however brilliant, can rival....”(50) Ahead lay the
thousand or thousands of years in which the potentialities that this
creative force has planted in human consciousness will gradually unfold.

Contemplation of so great a juncture in the history of civilization brings
into sharp focus the Figure whose nature and role have been unique in this
six-thousand-year process. Bahá’u’lláh has called ‘Abdu’l-Bahá “the
Mystery of God”. Shoghi Effendi has described Him as “the Centre and
Pivot” of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, the “perfect Exemplar” of the teachings
of the Revelation of God for the age of human maturity, and “the
Mainspring of the Oneness of Humanity”. No phenomenon in any way
comparable to His appearance had accompanied any of the Divine Revelations
that had given birth to the other great religious systems in recorded
history; all of these had been essentially stages preparing humanity for
its coming of age. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was Bahá’u’lláh’s supreme Creation, the
One that made everything else possible. An understanding of this truth
moved a perceptive American Bahá’í to write:

Now a message from God must be delivered, and there was no mankind to hear
this message. Therefore, God gave the world ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
received the message of Bahá’u’lláh on behalf of the human race. He heard
the voice of God; He was inspired by the spirit; He attained complete
consciousness and awareness of the meaning of this message, and He pledged
the human race to respond to the voice of God. ...to me _that_ is the
Covenant—that there was on this earth some one who could be a
representative of an as yet uncreated race. There were only tribes,
families, creeds, classes, etc., but there was no man except ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,
and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as man, took to Himself the message of Bahá’u’lláh and
promised God that He would bring the people into the _oneness of mankind_,
and create a humanity that could be the vehicle for the laws of God.(51)

Beginning His mission as a prisoner of a brutal, ignorant regime and
relentlessly assailed by faithless brothers who ultimately sought His
death, the Master single-handedly created of the Persian Bahá’í community
a brilliant demonstration of the social development the Cause could
produce, inspired the expansion of the Faith across the Orient, raised up
communities of devoted believers throughout the West, designed a Plan for
the world-wide expansion of the Cause, won the respect and admiration of
leaders of thought wherever His influence reached, and provided
Bahá’u’lláh’s followers throughout the world with a vast body of
authoritative guidance as to the intent of the Faith’s laws and teachings.
On the slopes of Mount Carmel He erected with enormous pain and difficulty
the Shrine housing the mortal remains of the martyred Báb, the focal point
of the processes by which the life of our planet will gradually be
organized. Through it all, in every least occasion of a life filled with
cares and demands of every sort—a life exposed at all times to examination
by enemy and friend alike—He ensured that posterity will possess that
treasure of which poets, philosophers and mystics have dreamed all down
the ages, a demonstration of unshadowed human perfection.

And finally, it was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who made certain that the Divine Order
conceived by Bahá’u’lláh for the unification of the human race and the
institution of justice in humanity’s collective life would be provided
with the means required to realize its Founder’s purpose. For unity to
exist among human beings—at even the simplest level—two fundamental
conditions must pertain. Those involved must first of all be in some
agreement about the nature of reality as it affects their relationships
with one another and with the phenomenal world. They must, secondly, give
assent to some recognized and authoritative means by which decisions will
be taken that affect their association with one another and that determine
their collective goals.

Unity is not, that is, merely a condition resulting from a sense of mutual
goodwill and common purpose, however profound and sincerely held such
sentiments may be, any more than an organism is a product of some
fortuitous and amorphous association of various elements. Unity is a
phenomenon of creative power, whose existence becomes apparent through the
effects that collective action produces and whose absence is betrayed by
the impotence of such efforts. However handicapped it often has been by
ignorance and perversity, this force has been the primary influence
driving the advancement of civilization, generating legal codes, social
and political institutions, artistic works, technological achievements
without end, moral breakthroughs, material prosperity, and long periods of
public peace whose afterglow lived in the memories of subsequent
generations as imagined “golden ages”.

Through the Revelation of God to humanity’s coming of age, the full
potentialities of this creative force have at last been released and the
means necessary to the realization of the Divine purpose have been
instituted. In His Will and Testament, which Shoghi Effendi has described
as the “Charter” of the Administrative Order, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set out in
detail the nature and role of the twin institutions that are His appointed
Successors and whose complementary functions ensure the unity of the
Bahá’í Cause and the achievement of its mission throughout the
Dispensation, the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. He laid
particularly strong emphasis on the authority thus conveyed:

Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth
them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them
hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso
contendeth with them hath contended with God....(52)

Shoghi Effendi has explained the significance of this extraordinary Text:

The Administrative Order which this historic Document has established, it
should be noted, is, by virtue of its origin and character, unique in the
annals of the world’s religious systems. No Prophet before Bahá’u’lláh, it
can be confidently asserted,... has established, authoritatively and in
writing, anything comparable to the Administrative Order which the
authorized Interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings has instituted, an Order
which ... must and will, in a manner unparalleled in any previous
religion, safeguard from schism the Faith from which it has sprung.(53)

Before the reading and promulgation of the Will and Testament, the great
majority of the members of the Faith had assumed that the next stage in
the evolution of the Cause would be the election of the Universal House of
Justice, the institution founded by Bahá’u’lláh Himself in the
Kitáb-i-Aqdas as the governing body of the Bahá’í world. An important fact
for present-day Bahá’ís to understand is that prior to this point the
concept of Guardianship was unknown to the Bahá’í community. There was
widespread rejoicing at the news of the unique distinction that the Master
had conferred on Shoghi Effendi and the continuing link with the Founders
of the Faith that his role represented. Until then, however, there had
been no appreciation of Bahá’u’lláh’s intent that such an institution
should emerge or of the interpretive function it would have to perform—a
function whose vital importance has since become readily apparent and
which hindsight makes clear was implicit in certain of His Writings.

What was entirely beyond the imagination of anyone then living, whether
faithful or ill-disposed, was the transformation in the life of the Cause
that the Will of the Master set in motion. “Were ye to know what will come
to pass after Me,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had declared, “surely would ye pray that
my end be hastened”? (54)


An appreciation of the place of the Guardianship in Bahá’í history must
begin with an objective consideration of the circumstances in which Shoghi
Effendi’s mission had to be carried out. Particularly important is the
fact that the first half of this ministry unfolded between wars, a period
marked by deepening uncertainty and anxiety about all aspects of human
affairs. On the one hand, significant advances had been made in overcoming
barriers between nations and classes; on the other, political impotence
and a resulting economic paralysis greatly handicapped efforts to take
advantage of these openings. There was everywhere a sense that some
fundamental redefinition of the nature of society and the role its
institutions should play was urgently needed—a redefinition, indeed, of
the purpose of human life itself.

In important respects, humanity found itself at the end of the first world
war able to explore possibilities never before imagined. Throughout Europe
and the Near East the absolutist systems that had been among the most
powerful barriers to unity had been swept away. To a great extent, too,
fossilized religious dogmas that had lent moral endorsement to the forces
of conflict and alienation were everywhere in question. Former subject
peoples were free to consider plans for their collective futures and to
assume responsibility for their relationships with one another through the
instrumentality of the new nation-states created by the Versailles
settlement. The same ingenuity that had gone into producing weapons of
destruction was being turned to the challenging, but rewarding, tasks of
economic expansion. Out of the darkest days of the war had come poignant
stories, such as the impulse that had briefly moved British and German
soldiers to leave the slaughterhouse of the trenches to commemorate
together the birth of Christ, providing a flickering glimpse of the
oneness of the human race which the Master had tirelessly proclaimed in
His journeys across that same continent. Most important of all, an
extraordinary effort of imagination had brought the unification of
humanity one immense step forward. The world’s leaders, however
reluctantly, had created an international consultative system which,
though crippled by vested interests, gave the ideal of international order
its first suggestion of shape and structure.

The post-war awakening expressed itself world-wide. Under the leadership
of Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese people had already thrown off the decadent
imperial regime that had compromised the country’s well-being, and were
seeking to lay foundations of a rebirth of that country’s greatness.
Throughout Latin America, despite terrible and repeated setbacks, popular
movements were likewise struggling to gain control over their countries’
destinies and the use of their continent’s immense natural resources. In
India, one of the century’s most remarkable figures, Mohandas Gandhi,
embarked on an enterprise that would not only revolutionize the fortunes
of his country, but also demonstrate conclusively to the world what
spiritual force can achieve. Africa was still awaiting its moment of
destiny, as were the inhabitants of other colonial lands, but for anyone
with eyes to see, a process of change had been set in motion that could
ultimately not be suppressed, because it represented the universal
yearnings of humankind.

These advances, however encouraging, could not conceal the historic
tragedy that had occurred. During the second half of the nineteenth
century, the proclamation of the Day of God addressed by Bahá’u’lláh to
the rulers of His day, in whose hands lay the destiny of humankind, had
been either rejected or ignored by its recipients in both East and West.
Reflection on so great a breach of faith throws into sobering perspective
the subsequent response that had met the mission of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the
West. However much one may rejoice in the praise poured on the Master from
every quarter, the immediate results of His efforts represented yet
another immense moral failure on the part of a considerable portion of
humankind and of its leadership. The message that had been suppressed in
the East was essentially ignored by a Western world which had proceeded
down the path of ruin long prepared for it by overweening
self-satisfaction, leading finally to the betrayal of the ideal embodied
in the League of Nations.

In consequence, the two decades immediately after Shoghi Effendi assumed
his responsibility for the vindication of the Cause of God were a period
of deepening gloom throughout the Western world, which seemed to reflect a
massive setback in the process of integration and enlightenment so
confidently proclaimed by the Master. It was as if political, social and
economic life had fallen into a kind of limbo. Grave doubts developed
about the capacity of the liberal democratic tradition to cope with the
problems of the times; indeed, in a number of European countries,
governments inspired by such principles were replaced by authoritarian
regimes. Soon, the economic crash of 1929 led to a world-wide reduction in
material well-being, with all the further moral and psychological
insecurities that resulted.

An appreciation of these circumstances helps us to understand the
magnitude of the challenge facing Shoghi Effendi at the outset of his
ministry. So far as the objective condition of humankind, as he
encountered it, was concerned, there was nothing that would have inspired
confidence that the vision of a new world bequeathed him by the Founders
of the Bahá’í Cause could be significantly advanced during whatever span
of years might be allowed him.

Nor did the instrument available to him appear to possess the strength,
the resilience or the sophistication his task required. In 1923, when
Shoghi Effendi was eventually able to assume full direction of the Cause,
the core of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers consisted of the body of believers in
Iran, of whose number not even a reliable estimate could have then been
produced. Denied most of the means necessary to their promotion of the
Cause, and severely limited in the material resources at their disposal,
the Iranian community was hedged about by constant harassment. In North
America, charged with the daunting responsibilities of the Divine Plan,
small communities of believers found themselves struggling with the simple
challenges of making a livelihood for themselves and their families as the
economic crisis steadily deepened. In Europe, Australasia and the Far
East, even smaller Bahá’í groups kept the flame of the Faith alive, as did
isolated groups, families and individuals scattered throughout the rest of
the world. Literature, even in English, was inadequate, and the task of
translating the Writings into other major languages and of finding the
funds to publish them represented an almost impossible burden.

Though the vision communicated by the Master burned as brightly as ever,
the means at their disposal must have appeared to Bahá’ís as pitifully
inadequate in the face of the conditions prevailing everywhere. The
hulking black foundation of the future Mother Temple of the West, rising
over the lake front north of Chicago, seemed to mock the brilliant
conception that had dazzled the architectural world only a few years
before. In Baghdad, the “Most Holy House”, designated by Bahá’u’lláh as
the focal centre of Bahá’í pilgrimage, had been seized by opponents of the
Faith. In the Holy Land itself, the Mansion of Bahá’u’lláh was falling
into ruin as a result of neglect by the Covenant-breakers who occupied it,
and the Shrine housing the precious remains of both the Báb and
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had progressed no further than the simple stone structure
raised by the Master.

A series of exploratory consultations with leading Bahá’ís made it clear
to the Guardian that even a formal discussion with qualified believers
about the creation of an international secretariat would be not only
useless, but probably counterproductive. It was alone, therefore, that
Shoghi Effendi set out on the task of propelling forward the vast
enterprise entrusted to his hands. How completely alone he was is almost
impossible for the present generation of Bahá’ís to grasp; to the extent
one does grasp it, the realization is acutely painful.

Initially, the Guardian assumed that the members of the Master’s extended
family, whose distinguished lineage brought them immense respect from
Bahá’ís everywhere, would welcome the opportunity to assist him in
realizing the purpose that the Master’s Will had set out in language so
imperative and moving. Accordingly, he invited his brothers, his cousins
and one of his sisters, whose education made them qualified for the
purpose, to provide the administrative support that the demanding work of
the Guardianship required. Tragically, as time passed, one after another
of these persons proved dissatisfied with the supporting role thus
assigned and careless in the discharge of its functions. Far more
seriously, Shoghi Effendi found himself facing a situation in which the
authority conferred on him, although expressed in uncompromising terms in
the Will and Testament, was seen by those related to him as relatively
nominal in character. These individuals preferred to regard the leadership
of the Faith as essentially a family affair in which great weight should
be placed on the views of senior figures among them, who were supposedly
qualified to assume such a prerogative. Beginning with demonstrations of
sullen resistance, the situation steadily deteriorated to a point where
the children and grandchildren of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá felt free to disagree with
His appointed successor and to disobey his instructions.

Rúḥíyyih _Kh_ánum, who saw this process of deterioration in its later
stages and herself suffered greatly in witnessing its effects on both the
work of the Cause and the Guardian personally, has written:

...one must understand the old story of Cain and Abel, the story of family
jealousies which, like a sombre thread in the fabric of history, runs
through all its epochs and can be traced in all its events.... The
weakness of the human heart, which so often attaches itself to an unworthy
object, the weakness of the human mind, prone to conceit and
self-assurance in personal opinions, involve people in a welter of
emotions that blind their judgment and lead them far astray.... Even
though this phenomenon of Covenant-breaking seems to be an inherent aspect
of religion this does not mean it produces no damaging effect on the
Cause.... Above all it does not mean that a devastating effect is not
produced on the Centre of the Covenant himself. Shoghi Effendi’s whole
life was darkened by the vicious personal attacks made upon him.(55)

This sombre background casts in an all the more brilliant light the
achievements of the Greatest Holy Leaf, sister of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and last
survivor of the Faith’s Heroic Age. Bahíyyih _Kh_ánum played a vital role
in guarding the interests of the Cause after the Master’s death and became
Shoghi Effendi’s sole effective support. Her fidelity evoked from his pen
perhaps the most deeply moving passages he was ever to write. The
apostrophe he addressed to her after her passing in 1932 was set in a
letter to the Bahá’ís “throughout the West”, which itself read in part:

Only future generations and pens abler than mine can, and will, pay a
worthy tribute to the towering grandeur of her spiritual life, to the
unique part she played throughout the tumultuous stages of Bahá’í history,
to the expressions of unqualified praise that have streamed from the pen
of both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Center of His covenant, though
unrecorded, and in the main unsuspected by the mass of her passionate
admirers in East and West, the share she has had in influencing the course
of some of the chief events in the annals of the Faith, the sufferings she
bore, the sacrifices she made, the rare gifts of unfailing sympathy she so
strikingly displayed—these, and many others stand so inextricably
interwoven with the fabric of the Cause itself that no future historian of
the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh can afford to ignore or minimize....Which of the
blessings am I to recount, which in her unfailing solicitude she showered
upon me, in the most critical and agitated hours of my life? To me,
standing in so dire a need of the vitalizing grace of God, she was the
living symbol of many an attribute I had learned to admire in

For long years, the Guardian felt that the protection of the Cause
required him to maintain silence about the deteriorating situation in the
Holy Family. Only as opposition finally burst into acts of open defiance,
eventually involving the family in shameful collaboration and even
marriages with members of the very band of Covenant-breakers against whose
treachery the Will and Testament of the Master had warned in vehement
language, as well as with a local family deeply hostile to the Cause, did
Shoghi Effendi eventually feel compelled to expose to the Bahá’í world the
nature of the delinquencies with which he was having to deal.(57)

This sad history is of importance to an understanding of the Cause in the
twentieth century not only because of what the Guardian called the “havoc”
it wreaked in the Holy Family, but because of the light it casts on the
challenges the Bahá’í community will increasingly face in the years ahead,
challenges predicted in explicit language by both the Master and the
Guardian. Apart from the insincerity that marked all too many of them, the
relatives of Shoghi Effendi demonstrated little or no awareness of the
spiritual nature of the role conferred on him in the Will and Testament.
That the Revelation of God to the age of humanity’s maturity should have
brought with it, as a central feature of its mission, an authority
essential for the restructuring of social order represented a spiritual
challenge they seemed unable, or perhaps never sought, to understand.
Their abandonment of the Guardian is a lesson that will remain with
posterity down through the centuries of the Bahá’í Dispensation. The fate
of this most privileged but unworthy company of human beings underlines
for all who read their story both the significance that the Covenant of
Bahá’u’lláh holds for the unification of humankind and the uncompromising
demands it makes on those who seek its shelter.

                                * * * * *

In considering the events of the ministry of Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’ís need
to make the effort of imagination to see, through his eyes, the nature of
the mission laid on him. Our guide is the body of writings he has left.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had proclaimed in countless Tablets and talks the pivotal
principle of Bahá’u’lláh’s message: “In this wondrous Revelation, this
glorious century, the foundation of the Faith of God and the
distinguishing feature of His Law is the consciousness of the Oneness of
Mankind.”(58) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been equally emphatic in asserting, as
already noted, that the revolutionary changes taking place in every field
of human endeavour now made the unification of humanity a realistic
objective. It was this vision that, for the thirty-six years of his
Guardianship, provided the organizing force of Shoghi Effendi’s work. Its
implications were the theme of some of the most important messages he
wrote. Addressing in 1931 the friends in the West, he opened for them a
brilliant vista:

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 appeal is not
to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood
and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of
harmonious coöperation among individual peoples and nations. 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 implies an organic change in the
structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not
experienced.... It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the
demilitarization of the whole civilized world —a world organically unified
in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its
spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and
yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its
federated units.(59)

A concept that showed itself strongly in the Guardian’s writings was the
organic metaphor in which Bahá’u’lláh, and subsequently ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, had
captured the millennia-long process that has carried humanity to this
culminating point in its collective history. That image was the analogy
that can be drawn between, on the one hand, the stages by which human
society has been gradually organized and integrated, and, on the other,
the process by which each human being slowly develops out of the
limitations of infantile existence into the powers of maturity. It appears
prominently in several of Shoghi Effendi’s writings on the transformation
taking place in our time:

The long ages of infancy and childhood, through which the human race had
to pass, have receded into the background. Humanity is now experiencing
the commotions invariably associated with the most turbulent stage of its
evolution, the stage of adolescence, when the impetuosity of youth and its
vehemence reach their climax, and must gradually be superseded by the
calmness, the wisdom, and the maturity that characterize the stage of

Deliberation on this vast conception was to lead Shoghi Effendi to provide
the Bahá’í world with a coherent description of the future that has since
permitted three generations of believers to articulate for governments,
media and the general public in every part of the world the perspective in
which the Bahá’í Faith pursues its work:

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.... The economic resources of the world
will be organized, its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully
utilized, its markets will be coördinated and developed, and the
distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.(61)

Writing a definitive interpretation of the Administrative Order in “The
Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh”, Shoghi Effendi made particular reference to
the role that the institution he himself represented would play in
enabling the Cause “to take a long, an uninterrupted view over a series of
generations....” This unique endowment expressed itself with particular
clarity in his description of the dual nature of the historical process
that he saw unfolding in the twentieth century. The landscape of
international affairs would, he said, be increasingly reshaped by twin
forces of “integration” and “disintegration”, both of them ultimately
beyond human control. In the light of what meets our eyes today, his
previsioning of the operation of this dual process is breathtaking: the
creation of “a mechanism of world inter-communication ... functioning with
marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity”;(62) the undermining of the
nation-state as the chief arbiter of human destiny; the devastating
effects that advancing moral breakdown throughout the world would have on
social cohesion; the widespread public disillusionment produced by
political corruption; and—unimaginable to others of his generation—the
rise of global agencies dedicated to promoting human welfare, coordinating
economic activity, defining international standards, and encouraging a
sense of solidarity among diverse races and cultures. These and other
developments, the Guardian explained, would fundamentally alter the
conditions in which the Bahá’í Cause would pursue its mission in the
decades lying ahead.

One of the striking developments of this kind that Shoghi Effendi
discerned in the Writings he was called on to interpret concerned the
future role of the United States as a nation, and, to a lesser extent, its
sister nations in the Western hemisphere. His foresight is all the more
remarkable when one remembers that he was writing during a period of
history when the United States was determinedly isolationist in both its
foreign policy and the convictions of the majority of its citizens. Shoghi
Effendi, however, envisioned the country assuming an “active and decisive
part ... in the organization and the peaceful settlement of the affairs of
mankind”. He reminded Bahá’ís of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s anticipation that, because
of the unique nature of its social composition and political development
—as opposed to any “inherent excellence or special merit” of its
people—the United States had developed capacities that could empower it to
be “the first nation to establish the foundation of international
agreement”. Indeed, he foresaw the governments and peoples of the entire
hemisphere becoming increasingly oriented in this direction.(63)

The role that the Bahá’í community must play in helping bring about this
consummation of the historical process had been prefigured in the summons
addressed to His followers by the Báb, at the very birth of the Cause:

O My beloved friends! You are the bearers of the name of God in this
Day.... You are the lowly, of whom God has thus spoken in His Book: “And
We desire to show favour to those who were brought low in the land, and to
make them spiritual leaders among men, and to make them Our heirs.” You
have been called to this station; you will attain to it, only if you arise
to trample beneath your feet every earthly desire, and endeavour to become
those “honoured servants of His who speak not till He hath spoken, and who
do His bidding”.... Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze
upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty.... Arise in
His name, put your trust wholly in Him, and be assured of ultimate

As early as 1923, Shoghi Effendi was moved to open his heart on this
subject to the friends in North America:

Let us pray to God that in these days of world-encircling gloom, when the
dark forces of nature, of hate, rebellion, anarchy and reaction are
threatening the very stability of human society, when the most precious
fruits of civilization are undergoing severe and unparalleled tests, we
may all realize, more profoundly than ever, that though but a mere handful
amidst the seething masses of the world, we are in this day the chosen
instruments of God’s grace, that our mission is most urgent and vital to
the fate of humanity, and, fortified by these sentiments, arise to achieve
God’s holy purpose for mankind.(65)

                                * * * * *

Fully aware of the condition into which society had fallen, the
consequences of his betrayal at the hands of family members on whose
assistance he should have been able to rely, and the relative weakness of
the resources available to him in the Bahá’í community itself, Shoghi
Effendi arose to forge the means needed to realize the mission bequeathed
to him.

To one degree or another, most Bahá’ís no doubt appreciated that the
Assemblies they were being called on to form had a significance far beyond
the mere management of practical affairs with which they were charged.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who had guided this development, had spoken of them as:

...shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of
holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are
shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life
streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the
progress of man, at all times and under all conditions.(66)

It fell to Shoghi Effendi, however, to assist the community to understand
the place and role of these national and local consultative bodies in the
framework of the Administrative Order created by Bahá’u’lláh and
elaborated in the provisions of the Master’s Will and Testament. An
obstacle faced by a significant number of believers in this respect was
the unexamined assumption of many that the Cause was essentially a
“spiritual” association in which organization, while not necessarily
antithetical, did not constitute an inherent feature of the Divine
purpose. Emphasizing that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Will and Testament
“are not only complementary, but ... mutually confirm one another, and are
inseparable parts of one complete unit”,(67) the Guardian invited the
believers to reflect deeply on a central truth of the Cause they had

Few will fail to recognize that the Spirit breathed by Bahá’u’lláh upon
the world, and which is manifesting itself with varying degrees of
intensity through the efforts consciously displayed by His avowed
supporters and indirectly through certain humanitarian organizations, can
never permeate and exercise an abiding influence upon mankind unless and
until it incarnates itself in a visible Order, which would bear His name,
wholly identify itself with His principles, and function in conformity
with His laws.(68)

He went on to urge the Faith’s followers to realize the essential
difference between the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, whose Revealed Texts contain
detailed provisions for such an authoritative Order, and those preparatory
Revelations whose Scriptures had been largely silent on the administration
of affairs and on the interpretation of their Founders’ intent. In the
words of Bahá’u’lláh: “The Prophetic Cycle hath, verily, ended. The
Eternal Truth is now come. He hath lifted up the Ensign of Power....”(69)
Unlike the Dispensations of the past, the Revelation of God to this age
has given birth, Shoghi Effendi said, to “a living organism”, whose laws
and institutions constitute “the essentials of a Divine Economy”, “a
pattern for future society”, and “the one agency for the unification of
the world, and the proclamation of the reign of righteousness and justice
upon the earth”.(70)

The friends should strive to appreciate, therefore, the Guardian urged,
that the Spiritual Assemblies they were painstakingly establishing
throughout the world were the forerunners of the local and national
“Houses of Justice” envisioned by Bahá’u’lláh. As such, they were integral
parts of an Administrative Order that will, in time, “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”.(71)

For a few in the young communities of the West, such a departure from
traditional conceptions of the nature and role of religion proved too
great a test, and Bahá’í communities suffered the distress of seeing
valued co-workers drift away in search of spiritual pursuits more
congenial to their inclinations. For the vast majority of believers,
however, great messages from the Guardian’s pen, such as “The Goal of a
New World Order” and “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh”, threw brilliant
light on precisely the issue that most concerned them, the relationship
between spiritual truth and social development, inspiring in them a
determination to play their part in laying the foundations of humanity’s

The Guardian provided, as well, the organizing image for this mighty work.
The “Heroic Age” of Bahá’u’lláh’s Dispensation, he declared, had ended
with the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Bahá’í community now embarked on the
“Iron Age”, the “Formative Age”, in which the Administrative Order would
be erected throughout the planet, its institutions established and the
“society building” powers inherent in it fully revealed. Far ahead lay
what Shoghi Effendi called the “Golden Age” of the Dispensation, leading
eventually to the emergence of the Bahá’í World Commonwealth that will
constitute the establishment on earth of the Kingdom of God and the
creation of a world civilization.(72) The impulse that had been initially
communicated to human consciousness through the revelation of the Creative
Word itself, whose revolutionary social implications had been proclaimed
by the Master, was now being translated by their appointed interpreter
into the vocabulary of political and economic transformation in which the
public discourse of the century was everywhere taking place. Lending the
process irresistible force, illuminating ever new dimensions of Bahá’í
experience, and serving as the mainspring of the unification of humankind
it proclaimed was the Covenant that Bahá’u’lláh had established between
Himself and those who turn to Him.

Although not initially designated “Spiritual Assemblies”, the councils
that local Bahá’í communities in Persia had been encouraged by
‘Abdu’l-Bahá to create had assumed responsibility for the administration
of their affairs. In the light of what was to follow, no one with a sense
of history can fail to be struck by the fact that the Faith’s first
Spiritual Assembly, that of Tehran, was founded in 1897, the year of
Shoghi Effendi’s own birth. Under the Master’s guidance, intermittent
meetings held by the four Hands of the Cause in Persia had gradually
evolved into this institution that served simultaneously as Persia’s
“Central Spiritual Assembly” and as the governing body of the local
community in the capital. By the time of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, there
were more than thirty Local Spiritual Assemblies established in Persia. In
1922 Shoghi Effendi called for the formal establishment of Persia’s
National Spiritual Assembly, an achievement delayed until 1934 by the
demands related to the taking of a reliable census of the community as a
basis for the election of delegates.

Outside Persia, the believers in ‘I_sh_qábád, in Russian Turkestan,
elected their first Local Spiritual Assembly, a body that assumed an
important role in the project for the construction of the first Bahá’í
Ma_sh_riqu’l-A_dh_kár in ‘I_sh_qábád. In North America a variety of
consultative arrangements—“Boards of Council”, “Council Boards”, “Boards
of Consultation” and “Working Committees”—performed analogous functions,
evolving gradually into elected bodies that constituted the forerunners of
Spiritual Assemblies. By the time of the Master’s passing, there were
perhaps forty such councils functioning in North America. These
developments prepared the way for the eventual emergence of the first
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and
Canada, which evolved from the “Temple Unity Board”, a body created in
1909 to coordinate construction of the future House of Worship. It was
formed in 1923, although the administrative requirements set by the
Guardian for this step were met only in 1925. Before this latter date
arrived, National Assemblies had been established in the British Isles, in
Germany and Austria, in India and Burma, and in Egypt and the Sudan.(73)

As the formation of National and Local Spiritual Assemblies was taking
place, the Guardian began to lay emphasis on the importance of their
securing recognition as “corporate persons” under civil law. By securing
such formal incorporation, in whatever fashion proved practicable, Bahá’í
administrative institutions would be enabled to hold property, enter into
contracts, and gradually assume a range of legal rights vital to the
interests of the Cause. The importance Shoghi Effendi attached to this new
stage of administrative evolution becomes clear in the photocopies of such
civil instruments that began to become a major feature of the photographic
coverage of the expansion of the Faith in successive volumes of _The
Bahá’í World_. Indeed, once the Mansion at Bahjí had been repossessed and
fully restored to its original condition, and appropriately furnished,
Shoghi Effendi put together a collection of this much valued documentation
for display there as an encouragement and education for the growing stream
of pilgrims to the World Centre.

The processes of civil incorporation began with the adoption in 1927 of a
Declaration of Trust and By-Laws for the National Spiritual Assembly of
the United States and Canada, which gained civil recognition as a
voluntary trust two years later. On 17 February 1932 the first local
Bahá’í Assembly, that of Chicago, adopted papers of incorporation which,
together with those adopted by that of New York City on 31 March of that
year, were to become a pattern for such instruments throughout the world.
By 1949, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada—formed
when the two North American Bahá’í communities had separated the previous
year—was able to secure formal recognition of its status under civil law
through a special Act of Parliament, a victory which Shoghi Effendi hailed
as “an act wholly unprecedented in the annals of the Faith in any country,
in either East or West”.(74)

These pressing administrative demands did not distract Shoghi Effendi from
other tasks that were vital to shaping the spiritual life of a global
community. The most important of these was the arduous work that he alone
could perform in providing the growing body of the believers who were not
of Persian background with direct and reliable access to the Writings of
the Faith’s Founders. The Hidden Words, The Kitáb-i-Íqán, the priceless
treasury brought together with so much love and insight under the title
_Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh_, _Prayers and Meditations of
Bahá’u’lláh _and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf provided the spiritual
nourishment the work of the Cause urgently required, as did Shoghi
Effendi’s translation and editing of Nabíl’s “Narrative” under the title
_The Dawn-Breakers_.

Bahá’í pilgrims found spiritual enrichment of yet another kind in the Holy
Places and historic sites that the Guardian acquired—often at the cost of
protracted and wrenching negotiations—and lovingly restored. Shoghi
Effendi was equally responsive to unexpected opportunities that offered
themselves to his historical perspective. In 1925, a Sunni Muslim
religious court in Egypt denied civil recognition to marriages contracted
between Muslim women and Bahá’í men, insisting that “The Bahá’í Faith is a
new religion, entirely independent” and that “no Bahá’í, therefore, can be
regarded a Muslim” (and therefore qualified to enter into marriage with
someone who was).(75) Seizing on the larger implications of this apparent
defeat, the Guardian made wide use of the court’s definitive judgement to
reinforce the claim of the Cause in international circles to be an
independent Faith, separate and distinct from its Islamic roots.

                                * * * * *

As the Bahá’í community was constructing administrative foundations which
would permit it to play an effective role in human affairs, the
accelerating process of disintegration that Shoghi Effendi had discerned
was undermining the fabric of social order. Its origins, however
determinedly ignored by many social and political theorists, are
beginning, after the lapse of several decades, to gain recognition at
international conferences devoted to peace and development. In our own
time, it is no longer unusual to encounter in such circles candid
references to the essential role that “spiritual” and “moral” forces must
play in achieving solutions to urgent problems. For a Bahá’í reader, such
belated recognition awakens echoes of warning addressed over a century
earlier by Bahá’u’lláh to the rulers of human affairs: “The vitality of
men’s belief in God is dying out in every land.... The corrosion of
ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society....”(76)

The responsibility for this greatest of tragedies, the Guardian
emphasized, rests primarily on the shoulders of the world’s religious
leaders. Bahá’u’lláh’s severest condemnation is reserved for those who,
presuming to speak in God’s name, have imposed on credulous masses a
welter of dogmas and prejudices that have constituted the greatest single
obstacle against which the advancement of civilization has been forced to
struggle. While acknowledging the humanitarian services of countless
individual clerics, He points out the consequences of the way in which
self-appointed religious elites, throughout history, have interposed
themselves between humanity and all voices of progress, not excluding the
Messengers of God Themselves. “What ‘oppression’ is more grievous,” He
asks, “than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the
knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it...?”(77) In an age of
scientific advancement and widespread popular education, the cumulative
effects of the resulting disillusionment were to make religious faith
appear irrelevant. Impotent themselves to deal with the spiritual crisis,
most of those clerics of various Faiths who became aware of Bahá’u’lláh’s
message either ignored the moral influence it was demonstrating or
actively opposed it.(78)

Recognition of this feature of history does not diminish the harm done by
those who have sought to take advantage of the spiritual vacuum thus left.
The yearning for belief is inextinguishable, an inherent part of what
makes one human. When it is blocked or betrayed, the rational soul is
driven to seek some new compass point, however inadequate or unworthy,
around which it can organize experience and dare again to assume the risks
that are an inescapable aspect of life. It was in this perspective that
Shoghi Effendi warned the members of the Faith, in unusually strong
language, that they must try to understand the spiritual calamity
engulfing a large part of humankind during the decades between the two
world wars:

God Himself has indeed been dethroned from the hearts of men, and an
idolatrous world passionately and clamorously hails and worships the false
gods which its own idle fancies have fatuously created, and its misguided
hands so impiously exalted.... Their high priests are the politicians and
the worldly-wise, the so-called sages of the age; their sacrifice, the
flesh and blood of the slaughtered multitudes; their incantations, outworn
shibboleths and insidious and irreverent formulas; their incense, the
smoke of anguish that ascends from the lacerated hearts of the bereaved,
the maimed, and the homeless.(79)

Like opportunistic infections, aggressive ideologies took advantage of the
situation created by the decline of religious vitality. Although
indistinguishable from one another in the corruption of faith they
represented, the three belief systems that played a dominant role in human
affairs during the twentieth century differed sharply in their secondary
and more conspicuous characteristics to which the Guardian drew attention.
In denouncing “the dark, the false, and crooked doctrines” that would
bring devastation on “any man or people who believes in them”, Shoghi
Effendi warned particularly against “the triple gods of Nationalism,
Racialism and Communism”.(80)

Of Fascism’s founding regime, created by the so-called “March on Rome” in
1922, little need be said. Long before it and its leader had been swept
into oblivion during the concluding months of the second world war,
Fascism had become an object of ridicule among the majority of even those
who had originally supported it. Its significance lies, rather, in the
host of imitators it spawned and which were to proliferate throughout the
world like some malignant series of mutations, in the decades since then.
Fuelled by a manic nationalism, this aberration of the human spirit
deified the state, discovered everywhere imaginary threats to the national
survival of whatever unhappy people it had fastened upon, and preached to
all who would listen the notion that war has an “ennobling” influence on
the human soul. The comic opera parade of uniforms, jackboots, banners and
trumpets usually associated with it should not conceal from a contemporary
observer the virulent legacy it has left in our own age, enshrining in
political vocabulary such anguished terms as _desaparecidos_ (“the

While sharing Fascism’s idolatry of the state, its sister ideology Naziism
made itself the voice of a far more ancient and insidious perversion. At
its dark heart was an obsession with what its proponents called “race
purity”. The single-minded determination with which it pursued its
murderous ends was in no way weakened by the demonstrably false postulates
upon which it was based. The Nazi system was unique in the sheer
bestiality of the act most commonly associated with its name, the
programme of genocide systematically carried out against populations
considered either valueless or harmful to humanity’s future, a programme
that included a deliberate attempt literally to exterminate the entire
Jewish people. Ultimately, it was Naziism’s determination that a “master
race” of its own conception must rule over the entire planet which was
principally responsible for fulfilling ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s prophetic warning of
twenty years earlier that another war, far more terrible than the first,
would ravage the world. Like Fascism, Naziism has left a detritus in our
own time. In its case, this takes the form of a language and symbols
through which fringe elements in present-day society, demoralized by the
economic and social decay around them and made desperate by the absence of
solutions, vent their impotent rage on minorities whom they blame for
their disappointments.

The false god that the Master was moved to identify explicitly, and the
one denounced by name by Shoghi Effendi, had demonstrated its character at
its outset by brutally destroying, during the latter part of World War I,
the first democratic government ever established in Russia. For long
years, the Soviet system created by Vladimir Lenin succeeded in
representing itself to many as a benefactor of humankind and the champion
of social justice. In the light of historical events, such pretensions
were grotesque. The documentation now available provides irrefutable
evidence of crimes so enormous and follies so abysmal as to have no
parallel in the six thousand years of recorded history. To a degree never
before imagined, let alone attempted, the Leninist conspiracy against
human nature also sought systematically to extinguish faith in God.
Whatever view of the situation political theorists may currently hold, no
one can be surprised that such deliberate violence to the roots of human
motivation led inexorably to the economic and political ruin of those
societies luckless enough to fall under Soviet sway. Its longer-term
spiritual effect, tragically, was to pervert to the service of its own
amoral agenda the legitimate yearnings for freedom and justice of subject
peoples throughout the world.

From a Bahá’í point of view, humanity’s worship of idols of its own
invention is of importance not because of the historical events associated
with these forces, however horrifying, but because of the lesson it
taught. Looking back on the twilight world in which such diabolical forces
loomed over humanity’s future, one must ask what was the weakness in human
nature that rendered it vulnerable to such influences. To have seen in
someone like Benito Mussolini the figure of a “Man of Destiny”, to have
felt obliged to understand the racial theories of Adolf Hitler as anything
other than the self-evident products of a diseased mind, to have seriously
entertained the reinterpretation of human experience through dogmas that
had given birth to the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin—so wilful an
abandonment of reason on the part of a considerable segment of the
intellectual leadership of society demands an accounting to posterity. If
undertaken dispassionately, such an evaluation must, sooner or later,
focus attention on a truth that runs like a central strand through the
Scriptures of all of humanity’s religions. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh:

Upon the reality of man ... He hath focused the radiance of all of His
names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self.... These
energies ... lie, however, latent within him, even as the flame is hidden
within the candle and the rays of light are potentially present in the
lamp.... Neither the candle nor the lamp can be lighted through their own
unaided efforts, nor can it ever be possible for the mirror to free itself
from its dross.(81)

The consequence of humanity’s infatuation with the ideologies its own mind
had conceived was to produce a terrifying acceleration of the process of
disintegration that was dissolving the fabric of social life and
cultivating the basest impulses of human nature. The brutalization that
the first world war had engendered now became an omnipresent feature of
social life throughout much of the planet. “Thus have We gathered together
the workers of iniquity”, Bahá’u’lláh warned over a century earlier. “We
see them rushing on towards their idol.... They hasten forward to Hell
Fire, and mistake it for light.”(82)


With the administrative structure of the Cause taking shape, Shoghi
Effendi turned his attention to the task he had been compelled to delay
for so long, the implementation of the Master’s Divine Plan. In Persia,
the development was already well advanced. Directed first by Bahá’u’lláh
and subsequently by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a corps of especially designated
teachers—_muballi__gh__ín_—stimulated the work at the local level
throughout the country, and the existence of a vibrant community life
assisted in the relatively rapid integration of new declarants.
Ḥuqúqu’lláh funds, supplemented by the practice of deputization, which was
already an established feature of Persian Bahá’í consciousness, provided
material support for this teaching activity.

In the West, inspiration for the promotion of the Faith had been provided
by the response to the Master’s appeals by such outstanding individuals as
Lua Getsinger, May Maxwell and Martha Root. Merely to mention these names
is to highlight a feature of the rise of the Cause in the West to which
the Master drew particular attention:

In America, the women have outdone the men in this regard and have taken
the lead in this field. They strive harder in guiding the peoples of the
world, and their endeavours are greater. They are confirmed by divine
bestowals and blessings.(83)

In the East, social conditions of the time had virtually dictated that the
initiative in the promotion of the Cause would be taken largely by men.
Few such constraints prevailed in North America and Europe, where a galaxy
of unforgettable women became the principal exponents of the Bahá’í
message on both sides of the Atlantic. One thinks of Sarah Farmer, whose
Green Acre school provided the infant Bahá’í community with a forum for
the introduction of the Faith to influential thinkers; of Sara Lady
Blomfield, whose social position lent added force to the ardour with which
she championed the teachings; of Marion Jack, immortalized by Shoghi
Effendi as a model for Bahá’í pioneers; of Laura Dreyfus-Barney, who gave
the Faith the priceless collection of the Master’s table talks, _Some
Answered Questions_; of Agnes Parsons, co-founder with Louis Gregory of
the “Race Amity” initiatives inspired by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; of Corinne True,
Keith Ransom-Kehler, Helen Goodall, Juliet Thompson, Grace Ober, Ethel
Rosenberg, Clara Dunn, Alma Knobloch and a distinguished company of
others, most of whom pioneered some new field of Bahá’í service.

To the list must be added the name of Queen Marie of Romania, whom the
ages will hail as the first crowned head to recognize the Revelation of
God for this day. The courage shown by this lone woman in publicly
declaring her faith, through the letters she fearlessly addressed to the
editors of several newspapers in both Europe and North America, in all
probability introduced the name of the Cause to an audience numbering
millions of readers.

Despite the impressive response that the earliest of these efforts
elicited, the lack of an organized means of capitalizing on the results
initially limited the benefits accruing to Bahá’í communities in Western
lands. The rise of the Administrative Order dramatically changed the
latter situation. As Local Spiritual Assemblies came into being, goals
were set, resources were made available to support individual teaching
efforts, and those who declared their faith found themselves participating
in the many activities of an engrossing Bahá’í community life. It was now
possible to systematically translate and publish literature, news of
general interest was regularly shared, and the bonds that linked believers
with the World Centre of the Faith grew steadily stronger.

The two chief instruments by which Shoghi Effendi set about cultivating a
heightened devotion to teaching in both East and West were the same as
those on which the Master had relied. A steady stream of letters to
communities and individuals alike opened up for the recipients new
dimensions in the beliefs they had embraced. The most important of these
communications, however, now became those addressed to National and Local
Spiritual Assemblies. Their effect was intensified by the stream of
returning pilgrims who shared insights gained by direct contact with the
Centre of the Cause. Through these connections every individual believer
was encouraged to see himself or herself as an instrument of the power
flowing through the Covenant. The invaluable compilation that eventually
appeared under the title _Messages to America, 1932-1946_ provides a
review of the steps by which Shoghi Effendi drew the North American
believers ever deeper into the implications of the Master’s Divine Plan
for “the spiritual conquest of the planet”:

By the sublimity and serenity of their faith, by the steadiness and
clarity of their vision, the incorruptibility of their character, the
rigor of their discipline, the sanctity of their morals, and the unique
example of their community life, they can and indeed must in a world
polluted with its incurable corruptions, paralyzed by its haunting fears,
torn by its devastating hatreds, and languishing under the weight of its
appalling miseries demonstrate the validity of their claim to be regarded
as the sole repository of that grace upon whose operation must depend the
complete deliverance, the fundamental reorganization and the supreme
felicity of all mankind.(84)

The Guardian held up before the eyes of the North American Bahá’í
community a vision of their spiritual destiny. Its members were, he said,
“the spiritual descendants of the heroes of God’s Cause”, their rising
institutions were “the visible symbols of its [the Faith’s] undoubted
sovereignty”, the teachers and pioneers it sent out were “torch-bearers of
an as yet unborn civilization”, it was their collective challenge to
assume “a preponderating share” in laying the foundations of the World
Order “which the Báb has heralded, which the mind of Bahá’u’lláh has
envisioned, and whose features ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, its Architect, has

The language of the messages is magnificent, enthralling. In acknowledging
the darkness that widespread godlessness, violence and creeping immorality
was engendering, Shoghi Effendi described the role that Bahá’ís everywhere
must play as instruments of the transforming power of the new Revelation:

Theirs is the duty to hold, aloft and undimmed, the torch of Divine
guidance, as the shades of night descend upon, and ultimately envelop the
entire human race. Theirs is the function, amidst its tumults, perils and
agonies, to witness to the vision, and proclaim the approach, of that
re-created society, that Christ-promised Kingdom, that World Order whose
generative impulse is the spirit of none other than Bahá’u’lláh Himself,
whose dominion is the entire planet, whose watchword is unity, whose
animating power is the force of Justice, whose directive purpose is the
reign of righteousness and truth, and whose supreme glory is the complete,
the undisturbed and everlasting felicity of the whole of human kind.(86)

In 1936 the Guardian judged that the administrative structure of the Cause
was sufficiently broad and consolidated in North America that he could
begin the first stage of the implementation of the Divine Plan itself.
With the world sliding into another global conflagration, and the scope
possible to the efforts of the Persian believers being severely limited,
the focus would necessarily have to be on the expansion and consolidation
of the Bahá’í community in the Western hemisphere in preparation for the
much larger undertakings that lay ahead. Calling on the Plan’s appointed
“executors”, the believers in North America, the Guardian laid out a Seven
Year Plan, scheduled to run from 1937 to 1944. Its objectives were to
establish at least one Local Spiritual Assembly in every state of the
United States and every province of Canada, and to open to the Cause
fourteen republics in Latin America. To these objectives was added the
task, immensely demanding of a community with still very limited numbers
and severely straitened financial resources, of completing the exterior
ornamentation of the “Mother Temple of the West”.

Rúḥíyyih _Kh_ánum has pointed out a striking parallel between two
developments during this period of history. On the one hand, powerful
nations were launching armies of invasion whose goal was to seize the
natural resources of neighbour states—or simply to satisfy an appetite for
conquest. During this same period, Shoghi Effendi was mobilizing the
painfully small band of pioneers available to him, and dispatching them to
the teaching goals of the Plan he had created. Within a few short years,
the vast battalions of aggression would be shattered beyond recovery,
their names and conquests erased from history. The little company of
believers who had gone out with their lives in their hands to fulfil the
mission entrusted to them by the Guardian would have achieved or exceeded
all of their objectives, objectives that soon became the foundations of
flourishing communities.(87)

In appreciating this undertaking, it is helpful for Bahá’ís to understand
not only the role that planning plays in the life of the Cause, but the
unique nature of this instrumentality in its Bahá’í expression. The
systematic identification of objectives to be achieved and decisions as to
how to achieve them does not mean that the Bahá’í community has assumed
the responsibility of “designing” a future for itself, as the concept of
planning customarily implies. What Bahá’í institutions do, rather, is to
strive to align the work of the Cause with the Divinely impelled process
they see steadily unfolding in the world, a process that will ultimately
realize its purpose, regardless of historical circumstances or events. The
challenge to the Administrative Order is to ensure that, as Providence
allows, Bahá’í efforts are in harmony with this Greater Plan of God,
because it is in doing so that the potentialities implanted in the Cause
by Bahá’u’lláh bear their fruit. That the provisions of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
and the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ensure the success of the
efforts of the Bahá’ís is dramatically demonstrated in the unbroken series
of triumphs that fulfilled the plans created by Shoghi Effendi.

By August 1944, Shoghi Effendi was able to celebrate the completion of the
first Seven Year Plan. The Guardian marked the moment with a gift to the
Bahá’ís of the world that represents one of the greatest achievements of
his life. The publication, in 1944, of _God Passes By_, his comprehensive
and reflective history of the first hundred years of the Cause, threw open
for believers a window on the spiritual process by which Bahá’u’lláh’s
purpose for humankind is being realized.

History is a powerful instrument. At its best, it provides a perspective
on the past and casts a light on the future. It populates human
consciousness with heroes, saints and martyrs whose example awakens in
everyone touched by it capacities they had not imagined they possessed. It
helps make sense of the world—and of human experience. It inspires,
consoles and enlightens. It enriches life. In the great body of literature
and legend that it has left to humanity, history’s hand can be seen at
work shaping much of the course of civilization—in the legends that have
inspired the ideals of every people since the dawn of recorded time, as
well as in the epics of the _Ramayana_, in the exploits celebrated in the
_Odyssey_ and the _Aeneid_, in the Nordic sagas, in the _Shahnameh_, and
in much of the Bible and the Qur’án.

_God Passes By_ elevates this great work of the mind to a level ardently
striven after but never attained in any of ages past. Those who open
themselves to its vision discover in it an avenue of approach to
understanding the Purpose of God, an avenue that converges with the vast
expanse spread out in the Guardian’s matchless translations of the
Revealed Texts. Its appearance on the centenary of the birth of the
Cause—just as the Bahá’í world was celebrating the success of the first
collective effort it had ever been able to undertake—summoned up for
believers everywhere the full majesty and meaning of a hundred years of
ceaseless sacrifice.

                                * * * * *

At a relatively early point in the second world war, the Guardian set that
conflict in a perspective for Bahá’ís that was very different from the one
generally prevailing. The war should be regarded, he said, “as the direct
continuation” of the conflagration ignited in 1914. It would come to be
seen as the “essential pre-requisite to world unification”. The entry into
the war by the United States, whose president had initiated the project of
a system of international order, but which had itself rejected this
visionary initiative, would lead that nation, Shoghi Effendi predicted, to
“assume through adversity its preponderating share of responsibility to
lay down, once for all, broad, worldwide, unassailable foundations of that
discredited yet immortal System.”(88)

These statements proved prophetic. With the end of hostilities, it
gradually became apparent that a fundamental shift in consciousness was
under way throughout the world and that inherited assumptions,
institutions and priorities that had been progressively undermined by
forces at work during the first half of the century were now crumbling. If
the change could not yet be described as an emerging conviction about the
oneness of humankind, no objective observer could mistake the fact that
barriers blocking such a realization, which had survived all the assaults
against them earlier in the century, were at last giving way. One’s mind
turns to the prophetic words of the Qur’án: “And you see the mountains and
think them solid, but they shall pass away as the passing away of the
clouds.” (27:88) The effect was to inspire in progressive minds a sense of
confidence that it would be possible to construct a new kind of society
that would not only preserve the long-term peace of the world, but enrich
the lives of all of its inhabitants.

Primarily, this new birth of hope had resulted, as Shoghi Effendi had
foreseen, from the “fiery ordeal” that had at last succeeded in
“implanting that sense of responsibility” which leaders earlier in the
century had sought to avoid.(89) To this new awareness had been added the
effects of the fear induced by the invention and use of atomic weapons, a
reaction calling to mind for Bahá’ís the Master’s prescient statements in
North America that ultimately peace would come because the nations would
be driven to accept it. The _Montreal Daily Star_ had quoted Him as
saying: “It [peace] will be universal in the twentieth century. All
nations will be forced into it.”(90) The years immediately following 1945
witnessed advances in framing a new social order that went far beyond the
brightest hopes of earlier decades.

Most important of all was the willingness of national governments to
create a new system of international order, and to endow it with the
peacekeeping authority so tragically denied to the defunct League. Meeting
in San Francisco in April 1945—in the state where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had
prophetically declared, “May the first flag of international peace be
upraised in this state”—delegates of fifty nations adopted the Charter of
the United Nations Organization, the name proposed for it by President
Franklin D. Roosevelt.(91) Ratification by the required number of member
nations followed that October, and the first General Assembly of the new
organization convened on 10 January 1946, in London. In October 1949, the
cornerstone of the United Nations’ permanent seat was laid in New York
City, hailed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá thirty-seven years earlier as the “City of
the Covenant”. During His visit there He had predicted: “There is no doubt
that ... the banner of international agreement will be unfurled here to
spread onward and outward among all the nations of the world.”(92)

Significantly, it was also on the initiative of a political leader of one
of the Western hemisphere nations which had been addressed by Bahá’u’lláh,
that His summons to collective security—first reflected in the nominal
sanctions voted by the League of Nations against Fascist aggression in
Ethiopia—was at long last given practical effect. In November 1956, Lester
Bowles Pearson, then External Affairs Minister and later Prime Minister of
Canada, secured the creation by the United Nations of its first
international peacekeeping force, an achievement which won its author the
Nobel Prize for Peace.(93) The full nature of the authority contained in
such a mandate would steadily emerge as a major feature of international
relations during the second half of the century. Beginning with the
policing of agreements worked out between hostile states, the principle of
collective action in defence of peace gradually took on the form of
military interventions such as that of the Gulf War, in which compliance
with Security Council resolutions was imposed by force on aggressor
factions and states.

Along with the establishment of the new United Nations’ system and steps
to enforce its sanctions, a second major breakthrough occurred. Even
before hostilities had ended, public audiences throughout the world were
stunned by film coverage of the liberation of Nazi death camps, which
exposed for all to see the horrific consequences of racism. What can
adequately be described only as a profound sense of shame at the depths of
evil that humanity had shown itself capable of committing shook the
conscience of humankind. Through the window of opportunity thus briefly
opened, a group of dedicated and far-sighted men and women, under the
inspired leadership of figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, secured the United
Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The moral
commitment it represented was institutionalized in the subsequent
establishment of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In due
course, the Bahá’í community itself would have good cause to appreciate,
at firsthand, the system’s importance as a shield protecting minorities
from the abuses of the past.

Highlighting the significance of both advances was the decision of the
nations that had triumphed in the recent conflict to put on trial leading
figures of the Nazi regime. For the first time in history, the leaders of
a sovereign nation—men who sought to argue the constitutionality of the
political positions they had occupied—were brought before a public court,
their crimes unsparingly reviewed and documented, were duly convicted, and
those who did not escape through suicide were then either hanged or
sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. No serious protest had been
raised against this procedure which, theoretically, constituted a
fundamental departure from existing norms of international law. Although
the integrity of the proceedings was gravely marred by the participation
of judges appointed by a Soviet dictatorship whose own crimes matched or
exceeded those of the defendants’ regime, the act set an historic
precedent. It demonstrated, for the first time, that the fetish of
“national sovereignty” has recognizable and enforceable limits.

Beginning in these same years, the fulfilment of a long-delayed ideal
unfolded in the dissolution of the great empires that had not merely
survived 1918, but had managed even to extend their reach through
acquiring “mandates”, “protectorates” and colonies seized from the
defeated powers. Now, these antiquated systems of political oppression
were submerged by a rising tide of movements of national liberation far
beyond their weakened abilities to resist. With astonishing swiftness, all
of them either willingly abandoned their claims or were forced by colonial
rebellions to bow to the same fate that had overtaken their Ottoman and
Hapsburg predecessors earlier in the century.

Suddenly, the peoples of the world found themselves with a place to stand
in dignity, a forum in which to express the concerns that most deeply
affected them, and the faint beginnings of a role in deciding their own
future and that of humanity in general. A corner had been turned that left
behind six or more millennia of history. Beyond all the continuing
educational disadvantages, the economic inequities, and the obstructions
created by political and diplomatic manœuvring—beyond all these practical
but historically transient limitations—a new authority was at work in
human affairs to which all might reasonably hope somehow to appeal.
Representatives of once subject peoples, whose exotically clad warriors
had brought up the rear of the Diamond Jubilee procession in London only
five decades earlier, now began to appear as delegates to the Security
Council and occupants of senior posts in the United Nations and
non-governmental organizations of every kind. The magnitude of the change
is perhaps best symbolized by the fact that the Secretary-General of the
United Nations is today a Ghanaian, his two immediate predecessors having
been, respectively, from Egypt and Peru.(94)

Nor was this change merely one of formal and administrative character. As
time passed, growing numbers of outstanding figures in every walk of life
would escape the familiar limits of racial, cultural or religious
identity. In every continent of the globe, names like Anne Frank, Martin
Luther King Jr., Paolo Freire, Ravi Shankar, Gabriel García Marques, Kiri
Te Kanawa, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Teresa and Zhang Yimou became sources
of inspiration and encouragement to great numbers of their fellow
citizens.(95) In every department of life, heroism, professional
excellence or moral distinction would increasingly be able to speak for
themselves and be embraced by the generality of humankind. The world-wide
outpouring of affection and rejoicing that was to greet the release from
prison of Nelson Mandela and his subsequent election as president of his
country would reflect a sense among peoples of every race and nation that
these historic events represented victories of the human family itself.

It became apparent, too, that pre-war conceptions regarding the use and
distribution of wealth would have to be overhauled. Apart from principles
of social justice, which doubtless motivated a significant number of those
committed to this task, the economic dislocations produced by the events
of the previous three decades had made it clear that existing arrangements
were outdated and ineffective. Experiments to address such problems at the
national level had been undertaken in several countries in response to the
Depression during the 1930s. Now an interlocking system of institutions
oriented to recognition that national economies constitute elements of a
global whole was successively devised and put in place. The International
Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades, the World
Bank, and various subsidiary agencies began belatedly to grapple with the
implications of an integrating world, and with issues related to the
distribution of wealth inherent in this development. Thinkers in
developing countries were not slow to point out that such initiatives
served primarily the needs of the Western world. Nevertheless, their
emergence marked a fundamental change of direction that would increasingly
open participation to a wide range of states and institutions.

A humanitarian initiative of a kind never previously conceived opened
still another dimension of the global integration occurring. Beginning
with the “Marshall Plan” devised by the government of the United States to
rehabilitate war-torn European nations, those nations that were able to do
so turned to serious consideration of programmes that might foster the
social and economic development of rising nations. Widespread publicity
awakened a sense of solidarity with the rest of the world on the part of
peoples in lands that enjoyed reasonable levels of education, health care
and the application of technology. In time, this ambitious initiative came
under attack for the mixed motives attributed to it. Nor can anyone deny
that the long-term results of development projects have been
heartbreakingly disappointing in their failure to close the yawning gap
between the rich and the poor. Neither circumstance can obscure, however,
a sense of common humanity in its objectives that spoke perhaps most
eloquently in the response it evoked from an army of idealistic youth of
many lands.

Paradoxically, in the Far East particularly, even war had a certain
liberating effect on consciousness. As early as 1904, the Russo-Japanese
conflict had been seen in parts of the Orient as encouraging evidence that
non-Western peoples could resist the apparently invincible might of the
West. The effect had been heightened by the events of the first world war,
and greatly advanced by the success of Japanese arms in withstanding for
so long the massive Western effort devoted to defeating them during the
period 1941-1945. The second half of the century saw this new
technological expertise give birth to modern economies in half a dozen
nations of the region, whose innovative products and industrial energy,
particularly in the areas of transportation and information technology,
were able to hold their own with the best that the rest of the world had
to offer.

                                * * * * *

By 1946, the end of hostilities had opened the way for the launching by
Shoghi Effendi of a second Seven Year Plan, which benefited from the new
receptivity to the message of the Faith produced by the shift of
consciousness that was by then already apparent. Once again, the North
American Bahá’í community was summoned to assume a demanding
responsibility, one that essentially built upon and developed the
achievements of the earlier Plan. The great difference, however, was that
several other Bahá’í communities were now in a position to participate.
Already in 1938, the Bahá’ís of India, Pakistan and Burma had set out on a
plan of their own. As international hostilities gradually came to an end,
the National Spiritual Assemblies of Persia, of the British Isles, of
Australia and New Zealand, of Germany and Austria, of Egypt and the Sudan,
and of Iraq—freed from the limitations imposed on them by the war—embarked
on projects of various durations to expand the base of the Administrative
Order, settle pioneers in goals both at home and abroad, and multiply the
available Bahá’í literature.

By 1953 all of these undertakings had been fully completed. Three new
National Spiritual Assemblies had been established and had also undertaken
supplementary teaching plans, an array of new Local Spiritual Assemblies
had been formed in Europe, initiatives by five different national
communities acting under the coordination of the National Spiritual
Assembly of the British Isles had led to the settling of pioneers in East
and West Africa, and the great project set in motion by the Master’s
laying of the corner stone of the Mother Temple of the West was at last

Before the believers could celebrate these achievements, a new challenge
of staggering proportions was unveiled by Shoghi Effendi. Impelled by
historic forces that only he was in a position to appreciate, the Guardian
announced the launching at the forthcoming Rid.ván of a decade-long,
world-embracing Plan, which he designated a “Spiritual Crusade”. Engaging
the energies of all the twelve National Spiritual Assemblies then in
existence—the twelfth being that of the Italo-Swiss community—it called
for the establishment of the Faith in one hundred and thirty-one
additional countries and territories, together with the formation of
forty-four new National Spiritual Assemblies, the incorporation of
thirty-three of these, a vast increase in Bahá’í literature, the erection
of Houses of Worship in Iran and Germany (the former being replaced by
Temples in both Africa and Australia when the Tehran project was blocked),
and the expansion of the number of Local Spiritual Assemblies around the
world to a total of five thousand, of which three hundred and fifty must
be incorporated. Nothing in their collective experience had prepared the
Bahá’ís of the world for so colossal an undertaking. The magnitude of the
challenge was set out by Shoghi Effendi in a cablegram of 8 October 1952:

Feel hour propitious to proclaim to the entire Bahá’í world the projected
launching ... the fate-laden, soul-stirring, decade-long, world-embracing
Spiritual Crusade involving ... the concerted participation of all
National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá’í world aiming at the immediate
extension of Bahá’u’lláh’s spiritual dominion ... in all remaining
Sovereign States, Principal Dependencies comprising Principalities,
Sultanates, Emirates, Shaykhdoms, Protectorates, Trust Territories, and
Crown Colonies scattered over the surface of the entire planet. The entire
body of the avowed supporters of Bahá’u’lláh’s all-conquering Faith are
now summoned to achieve in a single decade feats eclipsing in totality the
achievements which in the course of the eleven preceding decades
illuminated the annals of Bahá’í pioneering.(97)

Victory in so ambitious an enterprise would mean that the embrace of the
Faith would span the globe, that the institutional foundations of its
Administrative Order would expand at least five-fold, and that its
community life would be enriched through the participation of believers
from a vast number of as yet untapped cultures, nations and tribes.

In effect, the Plan called for the Cause to make a giant leap forward over
what might otherwise have been several stages in its evolution. What
Shoghi Effendi saw clearly—and what only the powers of foresight inherent
in the Guardianship made it possible to see—was that an historical
conjunction of circumstances presented the Bahá’í community with an
opportunity that would not come again and on which the success of future
stages in the prosecution of the Divine Plan would entirely depend. What
he did not hesitate to call the “summons of the Lord of Hosts” was
embodied in a message that seized the imagination of Bahá’ís in every part
of the world:

No matter how long the period that separates them from ultimate victory;
however arduous the task; however formidable the exertions demanded of
them; however dark the days which mankind, perplexed and sorely-tried,
must, in its hour of travail, traverse; however severe the tests with
which they who are to redeem its fortunes will be confronted.... I adjure
them, by the precious blood that flowed in such great profusion, by the
lives of the unnumbered saints and heroes who were immolated, by the
supreme, the glorious sacrifice of the Prophet-Herald of our Faith, by the
tribulations which its Founder, Himself, willingly underwent, so that His
Cause might live, His Order might redeem a shattered world and its glory
might suffuse the entire planet—I adjure them, as this solemn hour draws
nigh, to resolve never to flinch, never to hesitate, never to relax, until
each and every objective in the Plans to be proclaimed, at a later date,
has been fully consummated.(98)

The response was immediate. Within a few months messages from the World
Centre began sharing the news of a succession of victories in country
after country. Those pioneers who succeeded in establishing the Faith’s
first foothold in a country or territory were designated “Knights of
Bahá’u’lláh”, and their names inscribed on a Roll of Honour destined, in
time, to be deposited, as called for by the Guardian, under the threshold
of the entrance to the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. Nothing testified quite so
dramatically to the foresight embodied in Shoghi Effendi’s successive
Plans than the fact that, within each of the new nation-states born after
the second world war, Bahá’í communities and Spiritual Assemblies were
already a part of the fabric of national life.

A brilliant succession of achievements followed these initial ones. By
October 1957, by which time the Faith had been established in over two
hundred and fifty countries and territories, Shoghi Effendi was able to
announce the purchase of property for ten new temple sites, and the
commencement of work on the Houses of Worship in Kampala, Sydney and
Frankfurt; the acquisition of properties for forty-six of the required
national Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds; a vast increase in the production of Bahá’í
literature; additional Assembly incorporations that had raised the total
number to one hundred and ninety-five; growing recognition of Bahá’í
marriage and Bahá’í Holy Days; and the advancing work on the International
Bahá’í Archives, the first building to be constructed on the broad arc
that the Guardian had traced on the slope of Mount Carmel. No one who
reviews the events of those days can fail to be deeply moved by the
parental care with which Shoghi Effendi ensured the achievement of these
magnificent results, as reflected in his painstaking listing by name, in
the last general message he wrote on the Crusade, in April 1957, of each
one of sixty-three regional teaching conferences and institutes held that
year around the Bahá’í world.

Such a review would be incomplete without an understanding of parallel
developments of the Administrative Order at the international level that
the Guardian undertook during these years. These steps proved crucial not
merely to winning the Crusade but to consolidating and protecting the
future of the Cause. Alongside the decision-making authority devolved on
the elective institutions of the Faith, a parallel function of the
Administrative Order is to exert a spiritual, moral and intellectual
influence on both these institutions and the lives of the individual
members of the community. Conceived by Bahá’u’lláh Himself, this
responsibility “to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of
men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men...” is
vested by the Master’s Will and Testament particularly in the Hands of the
Cause of God.(99)

During the ministries of both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá those believers
given this high station had played crucial roles in advancing the teaching
work in the Orient. As the conception of the Ten Year Crusade took shape
in his mind, Shoghi Effendi moved to mobilize the spiritual support this
institution could bring to achieving the tasks of the Plan. In a cablegram
of 24 December 1951, he announced the appointment of the first contingent
of twelve Hands of the Cause of God, allocated equally to the work in the
Holy Land, in Asia, the Americas and Europe. These distinguished servants
of the Cause were called upon to focus directly on the challenge of
mobilizing the energies of the friends and providing the elected bodies
with encouragement and counsel. Shortly thereafter the number of Hands of
the Cause was raised from twelve to nineteen.

The resources available for the discharge of this responsibility were
greatly increased by the Guardian’s decision in October 1952, calling on
the Hands of the Cause to create five auxiliary boards, one for each
continent: those in the Americas, Europe and Africa consisting of nine
members each, while those in Asia and Australasia having seven and two
respectively. Subsequently, separate auxiliary boards were created to
assist with the protection of the Faith, the other of the two chief
functions of the Hands of the Cause.

A message of 3 June 1957 celebrated the action of the Israeli government
in executing the final decision of the court of appeals of that country,
by which the surviving band of Covenant-breakers were at last evicted from
the Ḥaram-i-Aqdas surrounding the focal Centre of the Bahá’í world at
Bahjí.(100) Only a day later, however, a second cablegram warned ominously
of the urgent need of the Faith’s senior institutions to act in concert to
protect it from new dangers that the Guardian perceived to be gathering on
the horizon. This was followed in October by a message announcing that the
number of Hands of the Cause of God had been raised from nineteen to
twenty-seven, designating these senior officers “Chief Stewards of
Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic World Commonwealth”, and charging them with
responsibility to consult with National Spiritual Assemblies on urgently
needed measures to protect the Faith.

Less than a month thereafter, the Bahá’í world was devastated by the news
of Shoghi Effendi’s death on 4 November 1957 from complications following
an attack of Asiatic influenza contracted during the course of a visit to
London. The Centre of the Cause who, for thirty-six years, had day by day
guided its evolution, whose vision encompassed both the flow of events and
the actions the Bahá’í community must take, and whose messages of
encouragement had been the spiritual lifeline of countless Bahá’ís around
the planet, was suddenly gone, leaving the great Crusade half finished and
the future of the Administrative Order in crisis.

                                * * * * *

The grief and overwhelming sense of desolation produced by the loss of the
Guardian lends all the greater significance to the triumph of the Plan he
had conceived and inspired. On 21 April 1963, the ballots of delegates
from fifty-six National Spiritual Assemblies, including the forty-four new
bodies called for and successfully formed during the Ten Year Crusade,
brought into existence the Universal House of Justice, the governing body
of the Cause conceived by Bahá’u’lláh and assured by Him unequivocally of
Divine guidance in the exercise of its functions:

It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel
together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in
the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily
inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider,
the Omniscient.(101)

It seemed especially fitting that the election—carried out by the
assembled delegates and those voting by mail—should take place in the home
of the Master, whose Will and Testament had described nearly sixty years
earlier the intent and scope of the authority bestowed by Bahá’u’lláh’s

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.(102)

An important preliminary step for the election had been taken by Shoghi
Effendi in 1951, in his appointment of the membership of the International
Council to assist him with his work. In 1961, as he had explained would be
the case, the second step in the process had been taken when this
institution evolved into a nine-member Council, elected by the members of
the National Spiritual Assemblies. Consequently, when the Ten Year Crusade
came to its victorious end in 1963, the Bahá’í world had gained important
experience in the challenging act it was then called on to perform.

Historians will unhesitatingly accord credit for mobilizing the effort
that had made this moment possible to the Hands of the Cause, who provided
the coordination of which the loss of the Guardian’s leadership had
deprived the Bahá’í world. Tirelessly coursing the earth in promotion of
Shoghi Effendi’s Plan, coming together in annual conclaves to provide
encouragement and information, inspiring the endeavours of their newly
created deputies, and fending off the efforts of a new band of
Covenant-breakers to undermine the unity of the Faith, this small company
of grief-stricken men and women succeeded in ensuring that the Crusade’s
ambitious objectives were attained in the time required and that the
necessary foundation was in place for the erection of the Administrative
Order’s crowning unit. In asking that their own members be left free from
election to the Universal House of Justice, so as to perform the services
assigned them by the Guardian, the Hands also endowed the Bahá’í world, as
a second great legacy, with a spiritual distinction that is without
precedent in human history. Never before had persons into whose hands the
supreme power in a great religion had fallen and who enjoyed a level of
regard unmatched by any others in their community, requested not to be
considered for participation in the exercise of supreme authority, placing
themselves entirely at the service of the Body chosen by the community of
their fellow believers for this role.(103)


However great is the distance between the Guardianship and the unique
station of the Centre of the Covenant, the role played by Shoghi Effendi
after the Master’s passing stands alone in the history of the Cause. It
will continue to occupy this focal place in the life of the Faith
throughout the coming centuries. In important respects Shoghi Effendi may
be said to have extended by an additional, critical, thirty-six years the
influence of the guiding hand of the Master in the building of the
Administrative Order and the expansion and consolidation of the Faith of
Bahá’u’lláh. One has only to make the fearful effort of imagining the fate
of the infant Cause of God had it not been held firmly, during the period
of its greatest vulnerability, in the grip of one who had been prepared
for this purpose by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and who accepted to serve—in the fullest
sense of the word—as its Guardian.

Although emphasizing to the body of his fellow believers that the Master’s
twin Successors were “inseparable” and “complementary” in the functions
they were individually designed to carry out, it is clear that Shoghi
Effendi early accepted the implications of the fact that the Universal
House of Justice could not come into existence until a lengthy process of
administrative development had created the supporting structure of
National and Local Spiritual Assemblies it required. He was entirely
candid with the Bahá’í community about the implications of the fact that
he was called on to exercise his supreme responsibility alone. In his own

Severed from the no less essential institution of the Universal House of
Justice this same System of the Will of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would be paralyzed in
its action and would be powerless to fill in those gaps which the Author
of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas has deliberately left in the body of His legislative
and administrative ordinances.(104)

Aware of this truth, Shoghi Effendi proceeded with scrupulous regard for
the constraints placed on him by circumstance, a faithfulness that will be
the pride of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers throughout the ages to come. The
record of his thirty-six years of service to the Faith—a record which,
like that of his Grandfather, is open for posterity to review and assess—
contains, as he assured the Bahá’í community would be the case, no action
on his part that would in any degree “infringe upon the sacred and
prescribed domain” of the Universal House of Justice. It is not only that
Shoghi Effendi refrained from legislation; he was able to fulfil his
mandate by introducing no more than provisional ordinances, leaving
decisions in such matters entirely to the Universal House of Justice.

Nowhere is this self-restraint more striking than in the central issue of
a successor to the Guardianship. Shoghi Effendi had no heirs of his own,
and the other branches of the Holy family had violated the Covenant. The
Bahá’í Writings contain no guidance in such an eventuality, but the Will
and Testament of the Master is explicit as to how all matters that are
unclear are to be resolved:

It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to
gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have
caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not
expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect
as the Text itself.(105)

In conformity with this guidance from the pen of the Centre of the
Covenant, Shoghi Effendi remained silent, leaving the question of his
successor or successors in the hands of the Body alone authorized to
determine the matter. Five months after it came into existence, the
Universal House of Justice clarified the issue in a message dated 6
October 1963 to all National Spiritual Assemblies:

After prayerful and careful study of the Holy Texts ... and after
prolonged consideration ... the Universal House of Justice finds that
there is no way to appoint or to legislate to make it possible to appoint
a second Guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi.(106)

In embarking on a mission for which history supplied him with no
precedent, Shoghi Effendi could look nowhere but to the Writings of the
Founders of the Faith and the example of the Master for the guidance his
work required. No body of advisors could help him determine the meaning of
the Texts he was called on to interpret for a Bahá’í community that had
placed its whole trust in him. Although he read widely the published works
of historians, economists and political thinkers, such research could do
no more than supply raw materials that his inspired vision of the Cause
must then organize. The confidence and courage required in mobilizing a
heterogeneous community of believers to undertake tasks that were, by any
objective criteria, far beyond their capacities, could be found only in
the spiritual resources of his own heart. No dispassionate observer of the
twentieth century, however sceptical about the claims of religion he or
she may be, can fail to acknowledge that the integrity with which a young
man in his early twenties accepted so awesome a responsibility—and the
magnitude of the victory he won—are evidences of an immense spiritual
power inherent in the Cause he championed.

To acknowledge all this is to recognize that the capacities with which the
Covenant had endowed the Guardianship were not a form of magic. Their
successful exercise entailed, as Rúḥíyyih _Kh_ánum has movingly described,
a never-ending process of testing, evaluation, and refinement. One is awed
by the precision with which Shoghi Effendi analyzed political and social
processes in the early stages of their development, and the mastery with
which his mind encompassed a kaleidoscope of events, both current and
historical, relating their implications to the unfolding Will of
Providence. That this work of the intellect was carried out on a level far
above the one on which the human mind customarily operates did not make
the effort any the less real or stressful. Rather, given the insight into
human nature and human motivation that was an inseparable feature of the
institution Shoghi Effendi represented, the opposite was the case.(107)

In the perspective of the more than forty years since Shoghi Effendi’s
passing, the long-term significance of his work in the evolution of the
Administrative Order has begun to emerge with brilliant clarity. Had
circumstances been different, the Master’s Will and Testament had provided
for the possibility that one or more successors might have followed in the
institution Shoghi Effendi embodied. We obviously cannot penetrate the
mind of God. What is clear and undeniable, however, is that, through his
interpretive authority, the structure of the Administrative Order, as well
as the course that its future development will pursue, have been
permanently fixed by Shoghi Effendi’s fulfilment—in every least respect
and to the fullest extent imaginable—of the mandate laid on him by the
Master. Equally clear and undeniable is the fact that both structure and
course represent the Will of God.


As Shoghi Effendi had prophetically warned, forces undermining inherited
systems and convictions of every kind were continuing to advance in tandem
with the integrating processes at work in the world. It is not surprising,
therefore, that the euphoria induced by the restoration of peace in both
Europe and the Orient proved to be of the briefest duration. Hardly had
hostilities ended than the ideological divisions between Marxism and
liberal democracy burst out into attempts to secure dominance between the
respective blocs of nations they inspired. The phenomenon of “Cold War”,
in which the struggle for advantage stopped just short of military
conflict, emerged as the prevailing political paradigm of the next several

The threat posed by a new crisis in the international order was heightened
by breakthroughs in nuclear technology and the success of both blocs of
nations in equipping themselves with an ever-growing array of weapons of
mass destruction. The horrific images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had
awakened humanity to the appalling possibility that a series of relatively
minor mishaps, as uncalculated as the process set in motion by the 1914
incident in Sarajevo, might this time lead to the annihilation of a
considerable portion of the world’s population and leave large areas of
the globe uninhabitable. For Bahá’ís, the prospect could only bring
vividly to mind the sombre warning uttered by Bahá’u’lláh decades earlier:
“Strange and astonishing things exist in the earth but they are hidden
from the minds and the understanding of men. These things are capable of
changing the whole atmosphere of the earth and their contamination would
prove lethal.”(108)

By far the greatest tragedy resulting from this latest contest for world
domination was the blight that it cast over the hopes with which formerly
subject peoples had welcomed the opportunity they believed they had been
given to build a new life of their own devising. The obstinate
determination of some of the surviving colonial powers to suppress such
hopes, though doomed to failure in the eyes of any objective observer, had
left the urge for liberation in many countries with no recourse but to
assume the character of revolutionary struggle. By 1960, such movements,
which had already been a feature of the political landscape during the
earlier decades of the century, were coming to represent the principal
form of indigenous political activity in most subject nations.

Since the driving force of colonialism itself was economic exploitation,
it was perhaps inevitable that most movements of liberation assumed a
broadly socialistic ideological cast. Within only a few short years, these
circumstances had created a fertile ground for exploitation by the world’s
superpowers. For the Soviet Union, the situation seemed to offer an
opportunity to induce a shift in the existing alignment of nations by
gaining a preponderating influence in what was by now beginning to be
called the “Third World”. The response of the West—wherever development
aid failed to retain the loyalties of recipient populations—was to resort
to the encouragement and arming of a wide variety of authoritarian

As outside forces manipulated new governments, attention was increasingly
diverted from an objective consideration of developmental needs to
ideological and political struggles that bore little or no relation to
social or economic reality. The results were uniformly devastating.
Economic bankruptcy, gross violations of human rights, the breakdown of
civil administration and the rise of opportunistic elites who saw in the
suffering of their countries only openings for self-enrichment—such was
the heartbreaking fate that engulfed one after another of the new nations
who, only short years before, had begun life with such great promise.

Inspiring these political, social and economic crises was the inexorable
rise and consolidation of a disease of the human soul infinitely more
destructive than any of its specific manifestations. Its triumph marked a
new and ominous stage in the process of social and spiritual degeneration
that Shoghi Effendi had identified. Fathered by nineteenth century
European thought, acquiring enormous influence through the achievements of
American capitalist culture, and endowed by Marxism with the counterfeit
credibility peculiar to that system, materialism emerged full-blown in the
second half of the twentieth century as a kind of universal religion
claiming absolute authority in both the personal and social life of
humankind. Its creed was simplicity itself. Reality—including human
reality and the process by which it evolves—is essentially material in
nature. The goal of human life is, or ought to be, the satisfaction of
material needs and wants. Society exists to facilitate this quest, and the
collective concern of humankind should be an ongoing refinement of the
system, aimed at rendering it ever more efficient in carrying out its
assigned task.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, impulses to devise and promote any
formal materialistic belief system disappeared. Nor would any useful
purpose have been served by such efforts, as materialism was soon facing
no significant challenge in most parts of the world. Religion, where not
simply driven back into fanaticism and unthinking rejection of progress,
became progressively reduced to a kind of personal preference, a
predilection, a pursuit designed to satisfy spiritual and emotional needs
of the individual. The sense of historical mission that had defined the
major Faiths learned to content itself with providing religious
endorsement for campaigns of social change carried on by secular
movements. The academic world, once the scene of great exploits of the
mind and spirit, settled into the role of a kind of scholastic industry
preoccupied with tending its machinery of dissertations, symposia,
publication credits and grants.

Whether as world-view or simple appetite, materialism’s effect is to leach
out of human motivation—and even interest—the spiritual impulses that
distinguish the rational soul. “For self-love,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said, “is
kneaded into the very clay of man, and it is not possible that, without
any hope of a substantial reward, he should neglect his own present
material good.”(109) In the absence of conviction about the spiritual
nature of reality and the fulfilment it alone offers, it is not surprising
to find at the very heart of the current crisis of civilization a cult of
individualism that increasingly admits of no restraint and that elevates
acquisition and personal advancement to the status of major cultural
values. The resulting atomization of society has marked a new stage in the
process of disintegration about which the writings of Shoghi Effendi speak
so urgently.

To accept willingly the rupture of one after another strand of the moral
fabric that guides and disciplines individual life in any social system,
is a self-defeating approach to reality. If leaders of thought were to be
candid in their assessment of the evidence readily available, it is here
that one would find the root cause of such apparently unrelated problems
as the pollution of the environment, economic dislocation, ethnic
violence, spreading public apathy, the massive increase in crime, and
epidemics that ravage whole populations. However important the application
of legal, sociological or technological expertise to such issues
undoubtedly is, it would be unrealistic to imagine that efforts of this
kind will produce any significant recovery without a fundamental change of
moral consciousness and behaviour.

                                * * * * *

What the Bahá’í world accomplished during those same years acquires an
added brilliancy against the background of this darkened horizon. It is
impossible to exaggerate the significance of the achievement that brought
the Universal House of Justice into existence. For some six thousand years
humanity has experimented with an almost unlimited variety of methods for
collective decision-making. From the vantage point of the twentieth
century, the political history of the world presents a constantly shifting
scene in which there was no possibility that was not seized upon by human
ingenuity. Systems based on principles as different as theocracy,
monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, republic, democracy and near anarchy
have proliferated freely, along with innovations without end that have
sought to combine various desirable features of these possibilities.
Although most of the options have lent themselves to abuses of one kind or
another, the great majority have no doubt contributed in varying degrees
to fulfilling hopes of those whose interests they purportedly served.

During this long evolutionary process, as ever larger and more diverse
populations came under the control of one or another system of government,
the temptation of universal empire repeatedly seized the imaginations of
the Caesars and Napoleons directing such expansion. The resulting series
of calamitous failures that have lent history so much of its ability to
both fascinate and appal, would seem to provide persuasive evidence that
the realization of the ambition lies beyond the reach of any human agency,
no matter how great the resources available to it or how firm its
confidence in the genius of its particular culture.

Yet, the unification of humankind under a system of governance that can
release the full potentialities latent in human nature, and allow their
expression in programmes for the benefit of all, is clearly the next stage
in the evolution of civilization. The physical unification of the planet
in our time and the awakening aspirations of the mass of its inhabitants
have at last produced the conditions that permit achievement of the ideal,
although in a manner far different from that imagined by imperial dreamers
of the past. To this effort the governments of the world have contributed
the founding of the United Nations Organization, with all its great
blessings, all its regrettable shortcomings.

Somewhere ahead lie the further great changes that will eventually impel
acceptance of the principle of world government itself. The United Nations
does not possess such a mandate, nor is there anything in the current
discourse of political leaders that seriously envisions so radical a
restructuring of the administration of the affairs of the planet. That it
will come about in due course Bahá’u’lláh has made unmistakably clear.
That yet greater suffering and disillusionment will be required to impel
humanity to this great leap forward appears, alas, equally clear. Its
establishment will require national governments and other centres of power
to surrender to international determination, unconditionally and
irreversibly, the full measure of overriding authority implicit in the
word “government”.

This is the context in which Bahá’ís must strive to appreciate the unique
victory that the Cause won in 1963, and which has consolidated itself over
the years since then. A full understanding of its meaning is beyond the
reach of the present and perhaps of the next several generations of
believers. To the extent that a Bahá’í does grasp it, he or she will hold
nothing back in a determination to serve its unfolding purpose.

The process leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice—made
possible by the successful completion of the three initial stages of the
Master’s Divine Plan under the leadership of Shoghi Effendi—very likely
constituted history’s first global democratic election. Each of the
successive elections since then has been carried out by an ever broader
and more diverse body of the community’s chosen delegates, a development
that has now reached the point that it incontestably represents the will
of a cross-section of the entire human race. There is nothing in
existence—nothing indeed envisioned by any group of people —that in any
way resembles this achievement.

When one considers, further, the spiritual atmosphere that pervades Bahá’í
elections and the principled conduct called for in even their simplest
operations, one is humbled by a much greater awareness. In the raising up
of the supreme governing institution of our Faith, one is witnessing a
striving to the utmost of human capacity to win the good pleasure of God,
a united and ardent determination that nothing whatever, in either
cultural conditioning or the promptings of personal desire, should be
allowed to stain the purity of this ultimate collective act. Nothing
beyond this lies within human power. By its action, humanity has done
literally everything of which it is capable, and God, in accepting this
consecrated effort on the part of those who have embraced His Cause,
endows the institution thus brought into existence with those powers
promised to it in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Will and Testament of
‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Little wonder that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá foresaw in the process
leading up to the culminating historical moment reached in 1963, the
centenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration of His mission, the fulfilment of
the vision of the prophet Daniel, “Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh
unto the thousand, three hundred and five and thirty days.” In the
Master’s words:

For according to this calculation a century will have elapsed from the
dawn of the Sun of Truth, then will the teachings of God be firmly
established upon the earth, and the Divine Light shall flood the world
from the East even unto the West. Then, on this day, will the faithful

With the establishment of the Universal House of Justice, the second of
the two successor institutions named by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the guarantors of
the integrity of the Cause had emerged. The vast body of the Guardian’s
writings and the pattern of administrative life he had created and which
were imprinted indelibly in Bahá’í consciousness, had endowed the Bahá’í
world with the means to ensure universal agreement about the intent of the
Revelation of God. In the Universal House of Justice it now also possessed
the ultimate authority conceived by Bahá’u’lláh for the exercise of the
decision-making functions of the Administrative Order. As the Will and
Testament explains, the two institutions share jointly in the Divine
promise of unfailing guidance:

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

The relationship between these two centres of authority, Shoghi Effendi
further explained, is a complementary one, in which some functions are
shared in common and others specialized for one or other of the two
institutions. Nevertheless, he was at pains to emphasize:

It must be ... clearly understood by every believer that the institution
of Guardianship does not under any circumstances abrogate, or even in the
slightest degree detract from, the powers granted to the Universal House
of Justice by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and repeatedly and
solemnly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will. It does not constitute in
any manner a contradiction to the Will and Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, nor
does it nullify any of His revealed instructions.(112)

Realization of the uniqueness of what Bahá’u’lláh has brought into being
opens the imagination to the contribution that the Cause can make to the
unification of humankind and the building of a global society. The
immediate responsibility of establishing world government rests on the
shoulders of the nation-states. What the Bahá’í community is called on to
do, at this stage in humanity’s social and political evolution, is to
contribute by every means in its power to the creation of conditions that
will encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking. In
the same way that Bahá’u’lláh assured the monarchs of His day that “It is
not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms”,(113) so the Bahá’í community
has no political agenda, abstains from all involvement in partisan
activity, and accepts unreservedly the authority of civil government in
public affairs. Whatever concern Bahá’ís may have about current conditions
or about the needs of their own members is expressed through
constitutional channels.

The power that the Cause possesses to influence the course of history thus
lies not only in the spiritual potency of its message but in the example
it provides. “So powerful is the light of unity,” Bahá’u’lláh asserts,
“that it can illuminate the whole earth.”(114) The oneness of humankind
embodied in the Faith represents, as Shoghi Effendi emphasized, “no mere
outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious
hope”. The organic unity of the body of believers—and the Administrative
Order that makes it possible—are evidences of what Shoghi Effendi termed
“the society-building power which their Faith possesses.”(115) As the
Cause expands and the capacities latent in its Administrative Order become
ever more apparent, it will increasingly attract the attention of leaders
of thought, inspiring progressive minds with confidence that their ideals
are ultimately attainable. In Shoghi Effendi’s words:

Leaders of religion, exponents of political theories, governors of human
institutions, who at present are witnessing with perplexity and dismay the
bankruptcy of their ideas, and the disintegration of their handiwork,
would do well to turn their gaze to the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, and to
meditate upon the World Order which, lying enshrined in His teachings, is
slowly and imperceptibly rising amid the welter and chaos of present-day

Such an examination will focus attention on the power that has made it
possible for Bahá’í unity to be achieved, consolidated and maintained.
“The light of men,” Bahá’u’lláh says, “is Justice.” Its purpose, He adds,
“is the appearance of unity among men. The ocean of divine wisdom surgeth
within this exalted word”.(117) The designation “Houses of Justice” given
to the institutions that will govern the World Order He conceived, at
local, national and international levels, reflects the centrality of this
principle in the teachings of the Revelation and the life of the Cause. As
the Bahá’í community becomes an increasingly familiar participant in the
life of society, its experience will offer ever more encouraging evidence
of this crucial law in healing the countless ills which, in the final
analysis, are the consequences of the disunity afflicting the human
family. “Know thou, of a truth,” Bahá’u’lláh explains, “these great
oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent
of the Most Great Justice.”(118) Clearly, that culminating stage in the
evolution of human society will take place in a world very different from
the one we know today.


The immediate effect of the winning of the Ten Year Crusade and the
establishment of the Universal House of Justice was to give a powerful
impetus to the advance of the Cause. This time the progress—which affected
virtually every aspect of Bahá’í life—took the form of long-range
developments that are best appreciated when the entire period since 1963
is viewed as a whole. During these crucial thirty-seven years the work
proceeded rapidly forward along two parallel tracks: the expansion and
consolidation of the Bahá’í community itself and, along with it, a
dramatic rise in the influence the Faith came to exercise in the life of
society. While the range of Bahá’í activities greatly diversified, most
such efforts tended to contribute directly to one or other of the two main

A decision taken by the House of Justice at an early point in the period
proved crucial to all aspects of both teaching and administrative
development. Realization that there was no successor to Shoghi Effendi
brought with it recognition that neither would the appointment of new
Hands of the Cause be any longer possible. How essential the functions of
this institution are to the progress of the Faith had been demonstrated
with unforgettable force during the anxious six years between 1957 and
1963. Accordingly, in pursuance of the mandate authorizing it to bring
into existence new Bahá’í institutions,(119) as the needs of the Cause
require, the House of Justice created, in June 1968, the Continental
Boards of Counsellors. Empowered to extend into the future the functions
of the Hands of the Cause for the protection and propagation of the Faith,
the new institution assumed responsibility for guiding the work of the
already existing Auxiliary Boards and joined National Assemblies in
shouldering responsibilities for the advancement of the Faith. The great
victories celebrated at the end of the Nine Year Plan in 1973, splendid in
themselves, reflected the extraordinary ease with which the new
administrative agency had taken up its duties and the eagerness with which
it had been welcomed by believers and Assemblies alike. The moment was
marked by another major development of the Administrative Order, the
creation of the International Teaching Centre, the Body that would carry
into the future certain of the responsibilities performed by the group of
“Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land”, and from this point on
coordinate the work of the Boards of Counsellors around the world.

Envisioning the course that the growth of the Cause would follow, Shoghi
Effendi had written of “the launching of worldwide enterprises destined to
be embarked upon, in future epochs of that same [Formative] Age, by the
Universal House of Justice, that will symbolize the unity and coordinate
and unify the activities of ... National Assemblies.”(120) These global
undertakings began in 1964 with the Nine Year Plan, to be followed by a
Five Year Plan (1974), a Seven Year Plan (1979), a Six Year Plan (1986), a
Three Year Plan (1993), a Four Year Plan (1996), and a Twelve Month Plan
that ended the century. The shifts in emphasis that distinguished these
successive endeavours from one another provide a useful index to the
growth that the Cause was experiencing in these decades and the new
opportunities and challenges that this growth produced. Far more important
than the differences amongst them, however, is the fact that the
activities called for in each Plan were extensions of initiatives which
had been set in motion by Shoghi Effendi, who in turn had seized up and
elaborated strands woven by the Faith’s Founders—the training of Spiritual
Assemblies; the translation, production and distribution of literature;
the encouragement of universal participation by the friends; attention to
the spiritual enrichment of Bahá’í life; efforts toward the involvement of
the Bahá’í community in the life of society; the strengthening of Bahá’í
family life; and the education of children and youth. While these various
processes will continue indefinitely to unfold new possibilities, the fact
that each originated in the creative impulse of the Revelation itself
lends to everything the Bahá’í community does a unifying force that is
both the secret and the guarantee of its ultimate success.

The first two decades of the process were one of the most enriching
periods that the Bahá’í community has experienced. Within a remarkably
short period of time, the number of Local Spiritual Assemblies multiplied
and the ethnic and cultural diversity of the membership became an ever
more distinctive feature of Bahá’í life. Although the breakdown of society
was creating problems for Bahá’í administrative institutions, a related
effect was to generate a greatly increased interest in the message of the
Cause. At the outset, the community was introduced to the challenge of
“teaching the masses”. By 1967, it was being called on “to launch, on a
global scale and to every stratum of human society, an enduring and
intensive proclamation of the healing message that the Promised One has

As believers from urban centres set out on sustained campaigns to reach
the mass of the world’s peoples living in villages and rural areas, they
encountered a receptivity to Bahá’u’lláh’s message far beyond anything
they had imagined possible. While the response usually took forms very
different from the ones with which the teachers had been familiar, the new
declarants were eagerly welcomed. Tens of thousands of new Bahá’ís poured
into the Cause throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, often
representing the greater part of whole rural villages. The 1960s and 1970s
were heady days for a Bahá’í community most of whose growth outside of
Iran had been slow and measured. To the friends in the Pacific went the
great distinction of attracting into the Cause the first Head of State,
His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II of Samoa, a distinction for which only
future events will provide an adequate frame.

At the heart of the development, as has been the case in the life of the
Cause from the outset, was the commitment made by the individual believer.
Already, during the ministry of Shoghi Effendi, far-sighted persons had
taken the initiative to reach indigenous populations in such countries as
Uganda, Bolivia and Indonesia. During the Nine Year Plan, ever larger
numbers of such teachers were drawn into the work, particularly in India,
several countries in Africa, and most regions of Latin America, as well as
in islands of the Pacific, Alaska and among the native peoples of Canada
and the rural black population of the southern United States. Pioneering
brought vital support to the work, encouraging the emergence of groups of
teachers among the indigenous believers themselves.

Even so, it soon became apparent that individual initiative alone, however
inspired and energetic, could not respond adequately to the opportunities
opening up. The result was to launch Bahá’í communities on a wide range of
collective teaching and proclamation projects recalling the heroic days of
the dawn-breakers. Teams of ardent teachers found that it was now possible
to introduce the message of the Faith not merely to a succession of
inquirers, but to entire groups and even whole communities. The tens of
thousands became hundreds of thousands. The Faith’s growth meant that
members of Spiritual Assemblies, whose experience had been limited to
confirming the understanding of the Faith of individual applicants raised
in cultures of doubt or religious fanaticism, had to adjust to expressions
of belief on the part of whole groups of people to whom religious
awareness and response were normal features of daily life.

No segment of the community made a more energetic or significant
contribution to this dramatic process of growth than did Bahá’í youth. In
their exploits during these crucial decades—as, indeed, throughout the
entire history of the past one hundred and fifty years—one is reminded
again and again that the great majority of the band of heroes who launched
the Cause on its course in the middle years of the nineteenth century were
all of them young people. The Báb Himself declared His mission when He was
twenty-five years old, and Anís, who attained the imperishable glory of
dying with his Lord, was only a youth. Quddús responded to the Revelation
at the age of twenty-two. Zaynab, whose age was never recorded, was a very
young woman. _Sh_ay_kh_ ‘Alí, so greatly cherished by both Quddús and
Mullá Ḥusayn, was martyred at the age of twenty, while
Muḥammad-i-Báqir-Naq_sh_ laid down his life when he was only fourteen.
Ṭahirih was in her twenties when she embraced the Báb’s Cause.

Following in the path that these extraordinary figures had opened,
thousands of young Bahá’ís arose in subsequent years to proclaim the
message of the Faith throughout all five continents and the scattered
islands of the globe. As an international youth culture began to emerge in
society during the late nineteen sixties and seventies, believers with
talent in music, drama and the arts demonstrated something of what Shoghi
Effendi had meant when he pointed out: “That day will the Cause spread
like wildfire when its spirit and teachings are presented on the stage or
in art and literature....”(122) The spirit of zeal and enthusiasm
characteristic of youth has also provided an ongoing challenge to the
general body of the community to explore ever more audaciously the
revolutionary social implications of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings.

The burst of enrolments brought with it, however, equally great problems.
At the immediate level, the resources of Bahá’í communities engaged in the
work were soon overwhelmed by the task of providing the sustained
deepening the masses of new believers needed and the consolidation of the
resulting communities and Spiritual Assemblies. Beyond that, cultural
challenges like those encountered by the early Persian believers who had
first sought to introduce the Faith in Western lands now replicated
themselves throughout the world. Theological and administrative principles
that might be of consuming interest to pioneers and teachers were seldom
those that were central to the concern of new declarants from very
different social and cultural backgrounds. Often, differences of view
about even such elementary matters as the use of time or simple social
conventions created gaps of understanding that made communication
extremely difficult.

Initially, such problems proved stimulating as both Bahá’í institutions
and individual believers struggled to find new ways of looking at
situations—new ways, indeed, of understanding important passages in the
Bahá’í Writings themselves. Determined efforts were made to respond to the
guidance of the World Centre that expansion and consolidation are twin
processes that must go hand in hand. Where hoped for results did not
readily materialize, however, a measure of discouragement frequently set
in. The initial rapid rise in enrolment rates slowed markedly in many
countries, tempting some Bahá’í institutions and communities to turn back
to more familiar activities and more accessible publics.

The principal effect of the setbacks, however, was that they brought home
to communities that the high expectations of the early years were in some
respects quite unrealistic. Although the easy successes of the initial
teaching activities were encouraging, they did not, by themselves, build a
Bahá’í community life that could meet the needs of its new members and be
self-generating. Rather, pioneers and new believers alike faced questions
for which Bahá’í experience in Western lands—or even Iran—offered few
answers. How were Local Spiritual Assemblies to be established—and once
established, how were they to function—in areas where large numbers of new
believers had joined the Cause overnight, simply on the strength of their
spiritual apprehension of its truth? How, in societies dominated by men
since the dawn of time, were women to be accorded an equal voice? How was
the education of large numbers of children to be systematically addressed
in cultural situations where poverty and illiteracy prevailed? What
priorities should guide Bahá’í moral teaching, and how could these
objectives best be related to prevailing indigenous conventions? How could
a vibrant community life be cultivated that would stimulate the spiritual
growth of its members? What priorities, too, should be set with respect to
the production of Bahá’í literature, particularly given the sudden
explosion that had taken place in the number of languages represented in
the community? How could the integrity of the Bahá’í institution of the
Nineteen Day Feast be maintained, while opening this vital activity to the
enriching influence of diverse cultures? And, in all areas of concern, how
were the necessary resources to be recruited, funded, and coordinated?

The pressure of these urgent and interlocking challenges launched the
Bahá’í world on a learning process that has proved to be as important as
the expansion itself. It is safe to say that during these years there was
virtually no type of teaching activity, no combination of expansion,
consolidation and proclamation, no administrative option, no effort at
cultural adaptation that was not being energetically tried in some part of
the Bahá’í world. The net result of the experience was an intensive
education of a great part of the Bahá’í community in the implications of
the mass teaching work, an education that could have occurred in no other
way. By its very nature, the process was largely local and regional in
focus, qualitative rather than quantitative in its gains, and incremental
rather than large-scale in the progress achieved. Had it not been for the
painstaking, always difficult and often frustrating consolidation work
pursued during these years, however, the subsequent strategy of
systematizing the promotion of entry by troops would have had very little
with which to work.

The fact that the Bahá’í message was now penetrating the lives not merely
of small groups of individuals but of whole communities also had the
effect of reviving a vital feature of an earlier stage in the advancement
of the Cause. For the first time in decades, the Faith found itself once
more in a situation where teaching and consolidation were inseparably
bound up with social and economic development. In the early years of the
century, under the guidance of the Master and the Guardian, the Iranian
believers—denied the opportunity to participate equally in whatever
limited benefits the society of the day offered—had arisen to
painstakingly construct a comprehensive community life of a kind beyond
either the need or the reach of the relatively isolated Bahá’í groups
across North America and Western Europe. In Iran, spiritual and moral
advancement, teaching activities, the creation of schools and clinics, the
building of administrative institutions, and the encouragement of
initiatives aimed at economic self-sufficiency and prosperity—all had been
from an early stage inseparable features of one organically unified
process of development. Now—in Africa, in Latin America, and parts of Asia
—the same challenges and opportunities had re-emerged.

While social and economic development activities had long been under way,
particularly in Latin America and Asia, these had been isolated projects
carried out by groups of believers under the guidance of individual
National Assemblies, and unrelated to any plan. In October 1983, however,
Bahá’í communities throughout the world were called on to begin
incorporating such efforts into their regular programmes of work. An
Office of Social and Economic Development was created at the World Centre
to coordinate learning and help seek financial support.

The decade that followed saw wide experimentation in a field of work for
which most Bahá’í institutions had little preparation. While striving to
benefit from the models being tried by the many development agencies
operating around the world, Bahá’í communities faced the challenge of
relating what they found in various areas of concern—education, health,
literacy, agriculture and communications technology—to their understanding
of Bahá’í principles. The temptation was great, given the magnitude of the
resources being invested by governments and foundations, and the
confidence with which this effort was pursued, merely to borrow methods
current at the moment or to adapt Bahá’í efforts to prevailing theories.
As the work evolved, however, Bahá’í institutions began turning their
attention to the goal of devising development paradigms that could
assimilate what they were observing in the larger society to the Faith’s
unique conception of human potentialities.

Nowhere was the strategy of the successive Plans so impressively
vindicated as was the case in India. The community there has today become
a giant of the Cause, numbering well over a million souls. Its work
stretches across the expanse of a vast sub-continent, home to an immense
diversity of cultures, languages, ethnic groups and religious traditions.
In many respects, the experience of this greatly blessed body of believers
encapsulates the Bahá’í world’s struggles, experiments, setbacks and
victories throughout these critical three decades. The dramatic rise in
enrolments had brought with it all of the problems being encountered
elsewhere in the world, but on a massive scale. The long road leading the
Indian Bahá’í community to its present-day eminence was beset with the
most painful difficulties, some of which threatened at times to overwhelm
the administrative resources available. The victories won, however,
provide a foretaste of the confirmations that will in time bless the
efforts of Bahá’í communities struggling with the same challenges on other
continents. By 1985, the growth of the Faith in India had reached the
point where the needs and opportunities of so many diverse regions called
for more sharply focused attention than the National Spiritual Assembly
alone could provide. Thus was born the new institution of the Regional
Bahá’í Council, setting in motion the process of administrative
decentralization that has since proven so effective in many other lands.

In 1986, the expansion and consolidation taking place in India were
befittingly crowned with the inauguration of the beautiful “Lotus Temple”.
Although the project had raised optimistic expectations as to the impact
its completion would have on public recognition of the Faith, the reality
has infinitely surpassed the brightest of such hopes. Today, India’s House
of Worship has become the foremost visitors’ attraction on the
subcontinent, welcoming an average of over ten thousand visitors every
day, and featuring prominently in publications, films and television
productions. The interest aroused in a Faith that could inspire and embody
itself in so magnificent a creation has given new meaning to the
description by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá of Bahá’í Temples as “silent teachers” of the

The progress of the Indian Bahá’í community, both in its internal
development and its relationship with the larger society, was illustrated
by a pioneering initiative undertaken in November 2000 in the field of
social and economic development. Taking advantage of the reputation it had
deservedly won among progressive circles in the country, the National
Spiritual Assembly hosted, in collaboration with the Bahá’í International
Community’s newly created Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity,(123)
a symposium on the subject of “Science, Religion and Development”. The
project engaged the participation of over one hundred of the most
influential development organizations in the country and inspired national
media coverage. Marking out a distinctive Bahá’í contribution to the
promotion of social advancement, the event set the stage for symposia of
the same kind in Africa, Latin America and other regions, where creative
Bahá’í communities can help shape what may well become one of the Faith’s
major success stories.

During these same years, the Asian continent also saw the sudden emergence
of the Malaysian Bahá’í community as an engine of the expansion work,
winning its own goals with stunning speed and dispatching pioneers and
travelling teachers to neighbouring lands. A development that made this
dramatic advance possible was the bonds of spiritual partnership that had
been woven between believers of Chinese and Indian backgrounds. Visitors
to Malaysia spoke, with something approaching awe, of the way in which the
Malaysian community, although working under many constraints and
disabilities, seemed to be the very embodiment of the military metaphors
with which Shoghi Effendi’s writings seek to capture the spirit of Bahá’í
teaching efforts.

Neither the world-wide growth of the Bahá’í community nor the process of
learning it was experiencing, however, tell the whole story of these
tumultuous and creative decades. When the history of the period is
eventually written, one of its most brilliant chapters will recount the
spiritual victories won by Bahá’í communities, in Africa particularly, who
survived war, terror, political oppression and extreme privations, and who
emerged from these tests with their faith intact, determined to resume the
interrupted work of building a viable Bahá’í collective life. The
community in Ethiopia, homeland of one of the world’s oldest and richest
cultural traditions, succeeded in maintaining both the morale of its
members and the coherence of its administrative structures under
relentless pressure from a brutal dictatorship. Of the friends in other
countries on the continent, it may be truly said that their path of
faithfulness to the Cause led through a hell of suffering seldom equalled
in modern history. The annals of the Faith possess few more moving
testimonies to the sheer power of the spirit than the stories of courage
and purity of heart emerging from the inferno that engulfed the friends in
what was then Zaire, stories that will inspire generations to come and
represent priceless contributions to the creation of a global Bahá’í
culture. Such countries as Uganda and Rwanda added unforgettable
achievements of their own to this record of heroic struggle.

Inspiring, too, was the demonstration of the capacity for renewal that is
inherent in the Cause and which emerged in Cambodian refugee camps along
the Thailand border. Through the heroic efforts of a handful of teachers,
Local Spiritual Assemblies were established among people who had survived
a campaign of genocide almost beyond the capacity of the human heart to
contemplate, who had lost countless loved ones as well as everything they
possessed in the way of material security, but in whom still burned the
longing of the human soul for spiritual truth. An extraordinary
achievement of a related kind was that of the Liberian Bahá’í community.
Driven from their homes into exile in neighbouring lands, many of these
intrepid believers transported with them their whole community life,
setting up Local Spiritual Assemblies, carrying on teaching work,
continuing the education of their children, using their time to learn new
skills, and finding in music, dance and drama powers of the spirit that
helped keep hope alive until they could return to their country.

As the process of education in methods of mass teaching was taking place,
the Faith’s membership was being transformed. In 1992, the Bahá’í world
celebrated its second Holy Year, this one marking the centenary of the
ascension of Bahá’u’lláh and the promulgation of His Covenant. More
eloquently than words could have done, the ethnic, cultural and national
diversity of the 27,000 believers who gathered at the Javits Convention
Center in New York City—together with the thousands present at nine
auxiliary conferences in Bucharest, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Nairobi, New
Delhi, Panama City, Singapore, Sydney and Western Samoa—provided
compelling evidence of the success of Bahá’í teaching work around the
world. An affecting moment occurred when the network of satellite
broadcasts linked the gathering in Moscow with the one taking place in New
York City, and Bahá’ís everywhere thrilled to greetings in Russian—the
common language of some 280 million people from at least fifteen
countries—that proclaimed a new phase in humanity’s response to

In the Moscow and Bucharest conferences could be glimpsed the rebirth of
Bahá’í communities that had been nearly extinguished under the oppression
of the Soviet regime and its collaborators. One of the last three
surviving Hands of the Cause, ‘Alí-Akbar Furútan, who had lived in Russia,
had the great joy of returning to Moscow, at the age of eighty-six, for
the inaugural election of the National Assembly of that country. Local
Spiritual Assemblies sprang up in all of the newly opened lands, and six
new National Spiritual Assemblies were elected. In a brief space of time,
pioneering and teaching activities in countries along the southern rim of
the former Soviet empire—where the Faith had been similarly
proscribed—soon brought into existence still more Local Assemblies and
eight additional National Spiritual Assemblies. Bahá’í literature was
translated into a range of new languages, energetic steps were taken to
secure civil recognition of Bahá’í institutions, and representatives from
Eastern Europe and the countries of the now vanished Soviet bloc began
participating with their fellow believers in the external affairs work of
the Faith at the international level.

Gradually, too, the message of the Faith began to find a welcome in many
parts of China and among Chinese populations abroad. Bahá’í literature was
translated into Mandarin, university audiences in many Chinese cities
extended invitations to Bahá’í scholars, a Centre for Bahá’í Studies was
established at the prestigious Institute of World Religions in
Beijing,(124) which operates within the Academy of Social Sciences, and
many Chinese dignitaries have been generous in their appreciation of the
principles they discover in the Writings. In light of the high praise of
the Master for Chinese civilization and its role in humanity’s future, one
begins to anticipate the creative contribution that believers from this
background will make to the intellectual and moral life of the Cause in
the years ahead.(125)

The significance of these three decades of struggle, learning and
sacrifice became apparent when the moment arrived to devise a global Plan
that would capitalize on the insights gained and the resources that had
been developed. The Bahá’í community that set out on the Four Year Plan in
1996 was a very different one from the eager, but new and still
inexperienced body of believers who, in 1964, had ventured out on the
first of such undertakings that were no longer sustained by the guiding
hand of Shoghi Effendi. By 1996, it had become possible to see all of the
distinct strands of the enterprise as integral parts of one coherent

With this education had also come a much needed perspective on what had
been accomplished. The expansion of the Cause over the preceding three
decades had represented the response of several million human beings who
had been affected by their encounter with the message of Bahá’u’lláh to
the point that they were moved to identify themselves in varying degrees
with the Cause of God. They were aware that a new Messenger of the Divine
had appeared, had caught something of the spirit of faith, and had been
strongly affected by the Bahá’í teaching of the oneness of humankind. A
small minority among them were able to go beyond this point. For the most
part, however, these friends were essentially recipients of teaching
programmes conducted by teachers and pioneers from outside. One of the
great strengths of the masses of humankind from among whom the newly
enrolled believers came lies in an openness of heart that has the
potentiality to generate lasting social transformation. The greatest
handicap of these same populations has so far been a passivity learned
through generations of exposure to outside influences which, no matter how
great their material advantages, have pursued agendas that were often
related only tangentially—if at all—to the realities of the needs and
daily lives of indigenous peoples.

The Four Year Plan, which was a major advance on those that immediately
preceded it, was designed to take advantage of the opportunities and
insights thus offered. The goal of advancing the process of entry by
troops became the single-minded aim of the enterprise. The lessons that
had been learned during earlier Plans now placed the emphasis on
developing the capacities of believers—wherever they might be—so that all
could arise as confident protagonists of the Faith’s mission. The
instrument to accomplish this objective had been undergoing steady
refinement during the earlier Plans and had demonstrated its efficacy.

As with most of the other methods and activities by which the Faith was
advancing, this instrument had likewise been conceived decades earlier by
the Master, who calls in the Tablets of the Divine Plan for deepened
believers to “gather together the youths of the love of God in schools of
instruction and teach them all the divine proofs and irrefragable
arguments, explain and elucidate the history of the Cause, and interpret
also the prophecies and proofs which are recorded and are extant in the
divine books and epistles regarding the manifestation of the Promised
One....”(126) Pioneering work and organized training of this nature had
already been done in Iran, during the early years of the century, by the
much-loved Ṣadru’ṣ-Ṣudúr.(127) As the years passed, winter and summer
schools had multiplied, and successive Plans also encouraged
experimentation in the development of Bahá’í institutes.

By far the most significant advance in this latter respect occurred over a
period of more than two decades, beginning in the 1970s in Colombia, where
a systematic and sustained programme of education in the Writings was
devised and soon adopted in neighbouring countries. Influenced by the
Colombian community’s parallel efforts in the field of social and economic
development, the breakthrough was all the more impressive in the fact that
it was achieved against a background of violence and lawlessness that was
deranging the life of the surrounding society.

The Colombian achievement proved a source of great inspiration and example
to Bahá’í communities elsewhere in the world. By the time the Four Year
Plan ended, over one hundred thousand believers were involved world-wide
in the programmes of the more than three hundred permanent training
institutes. In accomplishing this goal, a majority of regional institutes
had carried the process a stage further by creating networks of “study
circles” which utilize the talents of believers to replicate the work of
the institute at a local level. It is already apparent that the success of
the institute work has significantly reinforced the long-term process by
which a universal system of Bahá’í education will take shape.(128)

Although the struggles of these decades were relatively modest—at least
when set against the standard of the Heroic Age—they provide the present
generation of Bahá’ís with a window on what Shoghi Effendi describes as
the cyclical nature of the Faith’s history: “a series of internal and
external crises, of varying severity, devastating in their immediate
effects, but each mysteriously releasing a corresponding measure of divine
power, lending thereby a fresh impulse to its unfoldment.”(129) These
words put into perspective the succession of efforts, experiments,
heartbreaks and victories that characterized the beginning of large-scale
teaching, and prepared the Bahá’í community for the much greater
challenges ahead.

Throughout history, the masses of humanity have been, at best, spectators
at the advance of civilization. Their role has been to serve the designs
of whatever elite had temporarily assumed control of the process. Even the
successive Revelations of the Divine, whose objective was the liberation
of the human spirit, were, in time, taken captive by “the insistent self”,
were frozen into man-made dogma, ritual, clerical privilege and sectarian
quarrels, and reached their end with their ultimate purpose frustrated.

Bahá’u’lláh has come to free humanity from this long bondage, and the
closing decades of the twentieth century were devoted by the community of
His followers to creative experimentation with the means by which His
objective can be realized. The prosecution of the Divine Plan entails no
less than the involvement of the entire body of humankind in the work of
its own spiritual, social and intellectual development. The trials
encountered by the Bahá’í community in the decades since 1963 are those
necessary ones that refine endeavour and purify motivation so as to render
those who would take part worthy of so great a trust. Such tests are the
surest evidences of that process of maturation which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá so
confidently described:

Some movements appear, manifest a brief period of activity, then
discontinue. Others show forth a greater measure of growth and strength,
but before attaining mature development, weaken, disintegrate and are lost
in oblivion.... There is still another kind of movement or cause which
from a very small, inconspicuous beginning goes forward with sure and
steady progress, gradually broadening and widening until it has assumed
universal dimensions. The Bahá’í Movement is of this nature.(130)


Bahá’u’lláh’s mission is not limited to the building of the Bahá’í
community. The Revelation of God has come for the whole of humanity, and
it will win the support of the institutions of society to the extent that
they find in its example encouragement and inspiration for their efforts
to lay the foundations of a just society. To appreciate the importance of
this parallel concern, one has only to recall the time and care that
Bahá’u’lláh Himself devoted to cultivating relationships with government
officials, leaders of thought, prominent figures in various minority
groups, and the diplomatic representatives of foreign governments assigned
to service in the Ottoman empire. The spiritual effect of this effort is
apparent in the tributes paid to His character and principles by even such
bitter enemies as ‘Álí Pá_sh_á and the Persian ambassador to
Constantinople, Mírzá Ḥusayn _Kh_án. The former, who condemned his
Prisoner to banishment in the penal colony at ‘Akká, was nevertheless
moved to describe Him as “a man of great distinction, exemplary conduct,
great moderation, and a most dignified figure”, whose teachings were, in
the minister’s opinion “worthy of high esteem”.(131) The latter, whose
machinations had been principally responsible for poisoning the minds of
‘Álí Pá_sh_á and his colleagues, frankly admitted, in later years, the
great contrast between the moral and intellectual stature of his Enemy and
the harm done to Persian-Turkish relations by the reputation for greed and
dishonesty that characterized most of his other countrymen resident in

From the beginning, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took keen interest in efforts to bring
into existence a new international order. It is significant, for example,
that His early public references in North America to the purpose of His
visit there placed particular emphasis on the invitation of the organizing
committee of the Lake Mohonk Peace Conference for Him to address this
international gathering. He had also been generous in His encouragement of
the Central Organization for a Durable Peace at The Hague. He was,
however, entirely candid in the counsel He provided. Letters which the
Executive Committee of The Hague organization had written to Him during
the course of the war provided the opportunity for a response that drew
the organizers’ attention to Bahá’u’lláh’s enunciation of spiritual truths
which alone can provide a foundation for the realization of their aims:

O ye esteemed ones who are pioneers among the well-wishers of the world of
humanity!... At present Universal Peace is a matter of great importance,
but unity of conscience is essential, so that the foundation of this
matter may become secure, its establishment firm and its edifice
strong.... Today nothing but the power of the Word of God which
encompasses the realities of things can bring the thoughts, the minds, the
hearts and the spirits under the shade of one Tree. He is the potent in
all things, the vivifier of souls, the preserver and the controller of the
world of mankind.(132)

Beyond this, the list of influential persons with whom the Master spent
patient hours in both North America and Europe—particularly individuals
struggling to promote the goal of world peace and humanitarianism—reflects
His awareness of the responsibility the Cause has to humanity at large. As
the extraordinary response evoked by His passing testifies, He pursued
this course to the end of His life.

Shoghi Effendi took up this legacy almost immediately upon beginning his
ministry. As early as 1925, he encouraged the interest of an American
believer, Jean Stannard, to establish an “International Bahá’í Bureau”,
directing her to Geneva, seat of the League of Nations. While the Bureau
exercised no administrative authority, it acted, in the Guardian’s words,
“as intermediary between Haifa and other Bahá’í centers” and served as an
information “distributing center” in the heart of Europe, its role being
formally recognized when the League’s publishing house solicited and
published an account of the Bureau’s activities.(133)

As has so often been the case in the history of the Cause, an unexpected
crisis served to greatly advance Bahá’í involvement with the larger
society at the international level. In 1928, Shoghi Effendi encouraged the
Spiritual Assembly of Baghdad to appeal to the League’s Permanent Mandates
Commission against the seizure, by _Sh_í‘ih opponents, of Bahá’u’lláh’s
House in that city. Recognizing the wrong that had been done, the Council
of the League unanimously called on the British mandate authority, in
March 1929, to press the Iraqi government “with a view to the immediate
redress of the injustice suffered by the Petitioners”. Repeated evasions
by the Iraqi government, including the violation of a solemn pledge on the
part of the monarch himself, resulted in the case dragging on for years
through successive sessions of the Mandates Commission, leaving the House
in the hands of those who had seized it, a situation that remains to this
day uncorrected.(134) Undeterred by this failure, Shoghi Effendi focused
the attention of the Bahá’í community on the historic benefit that the
campaign had won for the Cause. As had earlier been the case with the
Sunni Muslim court’s rejection of the appeal of an Egyptian Bahá’í
community regarding marriage, the Guardian pointed out:

Suffice it to say that, despite these interminable delays, protests and
evasions ... the publicity achieved for the Faith by this memorable
litigation, and the defence of its cause—the cause of truth and justice—by
the world’s highest tribunal, have been such as to excite the wonder of
its friends and to fill with consternation its enemies.(135)

The birth of the United Nations opened to the Faith a far broader and more
effective forum for its efforts toward exerting a spiritual influence on
the life of society. As early as 1947, a special “Palestine Committee” of
the United Nations solicited the views of the Guardian on the future of
that mandated territory. His response to the inquiry provided an
opportunity for him to forward an authoritative exposition of the history
and teachings of the Cause itself. That same year, with Shoghi Effendi’s
encouragement, the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and
Canada submitted to the international organization a document entitled “A
Bahá’í Declaration on Human Obligations and Rights”, which was to inspire
the work of Bahá’í writers and spokespersons over the decades that
followed.(136) A year later the eight National Spiritual Assemblies then
in existence secured from the responsible United Nations body
accreditation for “The Bahá’í International Community” as an international
non-governmental organization.

It was not only the Faith’s slowly emerging relationship with the new
international order that elicited support of this kind from the Guardian.
The pages of _God Passes By_ and Amatu’l-Bahá’s memoirs of the Guardian
are filled with references to responses that influential individuals and
organizations made to initiatives taken by Shoghi Effendi and to the
events around the world in which Bahá’í representatives were invited to
participate. In the perspective of history, one is struck by the vast
disparity between many of these relatively inconsequential occasions and
the attention given them by a figure whose work was not only of enormous
importance to humanity’s future, but who understood fully the relative
significance of events unfolding around him. What the Bahá’í community has
been given in this careful record is a guide to the way that it must take
up the growing opportunities born out of modest beginnings.

From the moment of its accreditation, the Bahá’í International Community
began to play an energetic role in United Nations’ affairs. An activity
that won it much appreciation was a programme carried out, through the
expanding network of Bahá’í Assemblies, to provide the public with
information about the United Nations itself, and which gave generous
support to struggling United Nations associations throughout the world. By
1970, the Community had secured consultative status with the United
Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This was followed in 1974 by
the granting of formal association with the United Nations Environmental
Programme (UNEP) and in 1976 by the acquisition of consultative status
with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The influence and
expertise developed during these years showed their capacity, in 1955 and
1962, when the Community was successful in securing United Nations’
intervention on behalf of the believers suffering persecution in Iran and
Morocco, respectively.

                                * * * * *

In 1980, the patient external affairs activities of the National Spiritual
Assemblies and the Community’s United Nations Office were suddenly
propelled into a new stage of their development. The catalyst was the
attempt by the _Sh_í‘ih clergy of Iran to exterminate the Cause in the
land of its birth. The consequences were as little anticipated by the
Faith’s persecutors as they were by its defenders.

Throughout the long decades in which the believers in the cradle of the
Faith suffered intermittent persecution for their beliefs, the mullás, who
instigated and led these attacks, acted in concert with the country’s
succession of monarchs. The latter, ostensibly absolute in their
authority, were in fact constrained by political calculations that
rendered them vulnerable to outside pressures, particularly from Western
governments. So it was that the outrage voiced by Russian, British and
other diplomatic missions had compelled Náṣiri’d-Dín _Sh_áh, against his
will, to bring to an end the orgy of violence that took so many believers’
lives in the early 1850s and threatened that of Bahá’u’lláh Himself.
During the twentieth century, his Qájár successors had been similarly
concerned to placate the opinion of foreign governments. The pattern was
repeated in 1955 when the second of the Pahlaví shahs, who had been
induced by the mullás to approve a wave of anti-Bahá’í violence, was
forced by United Nations’ protest and by objections on the part of the
American government to abruptly halt the campaign—both interventions
harbingers of things to come.

Such checks on the clergy’s behaviour seemed to have been swept away by
the Islamic revolution of 1979. Suddenly, the mullás were themselves in
power, appointing their own nominees to the highest positions in the new
republic, and eventually taking over these posts directly. “Revolutionary
courts” were set up, answering only to the senior clergy. An army of
“revolutionary guards”, far more effective than the shah’s secret police,
and quite as brutal, took over control of every aspect of public life.

While the attention of the new ruling caste was focused chiefly on what it
believed were threats from foreign governments, influential elements
within it saw an opportunity at last to destroy the Iranian Bahá’í
community.(137) The harrowing details of the campaign that followed need
no review here. Their significance lies, rather, in the response made to
these attacks by thousands of individual Bahá’ís—men, women and
children—throughout the country. Their refusal to compromise their faith,
even at the cost of their lives, inspired in their fellow believers
throughout the world a heightened dedication to the Cause for which these
sacrifices were being made. It was not, however, only the members of the
Faith who were affected by these events. Decades earlier, in 1889, a
distinguished Western commentator on the heroism of the dawn-breakers of
the Faith had prophetically written of the sufferings of the early

It is the lives and deaths of these, their hope which knows no despair,
their love which knows no cooling, their steadfastness which knows no
wavering, which stamp this wonderful movement with a character entirely
its own.... It is not a small or easy thing to endure what these have
endured, and surely what they deemed worth life itself is worth trying to
understand. I say nothing of the mighty influence which, as I believe, the
Bábí [sic] faith will exert in the future, nor of the new life it may
perchance breathe into a dead people; for, whether it succeed or fail, the
splendid heroism of the Bábí martyrs is a thing eternal and
indestructible.... But what I cannot hope to have conveyed to you is the
terrible earnestness of these men, and the indescribable influence which
this earnestness, combined with other qualities, exerts on any one who has
actually been brought in contact with them.(138)

These words prefigured the rise of a similar sentiment among non-Bahá’í
observers during the Islamic revolutionary years; and this was to become
one of the most powerful forces propelling the emergence of the Cause from
obscurity. Captured in those early words, too, was the fundamentally
spiritual nature of what has always been at stake in the cradle of the
Faith. Beyond a revulsion at the senseless brutality of the persecution, a
growing body of foreign opinion has been profoundly moved by the response
of the Iranian Bahá’ís.

The twentieth century has, alas, been overwhelmed by the suffering of
countless victims of oppression. What made the Bahá’í situation unique was
the attitude adopted by those who endured the suffering. The Iranian
believers refused to accept the all too familiar role of victims. Like the
Founders of the Faith before them, they took moral charge of the great
issue between them and their adversaries. It was they, not revolutionary
courts or revolutionary guards, who quickly set the terms of the
encounter, and this extraordinary achievement affected not only the hearts
but the minds of those who observed the situation from outside the Bahá’í
Faith. The persecuted community neither attacked its oppressors, nor
sought political advantage from the crisis. Nor did its Bahá’í defenders
in other lands call for the dismantling of the Iranian constitution, much
less for revenge. All demanded only justice —the recognition of the rights
guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, endorsed by the
community of nations, ratified by the Iranian government, and many of them
embodied even in clauses of the Islamic constitution.

The crisis roused the Bahá’í world to extraordinary feats of achievement.
National Spiritual Assemblies who had little or no experience in
developing a working relationship with officials of their countries’
governments were called on to solicit government support for resolutions
at various levels of the international human rights system, and did so
with outstanding success. Year after year, for twenty uninterrupted years,
the case of the Iranian Bahá’ís proceeded through the international human
rights system, gathering support in successive resolutions, ensuring
attention to Bahá’í grievances in the missions of rapporteurs appointed by
the United Nations Human Rights Commission and consolidating these gains
through decisions of the Third Committee of the United Nations General
Assembly. Every attempt by the Iranian regime to escape international
condemnation of its treatment of its Bahá’í citizens failed to shake the
support the Bahá’í issue attracted from a persistent majority of
sympathetic nations represented on the Commission. The achievement was all
the more remarkable in the context of the Commission’s constantly changing
membership and a demanding agenda that included human rights abuses in
other countries that affected millions of victims.

At the same time as direct pressure was being exerted on the Iranian
government, the case was attracting unprecedented publicity around the
world in newspapers, magazines and the broadcast media. Newspapers such as
_The_ _New York Times_, _Le Monde _and _Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung_,
enjoying international readership, gave wide coverage to the persecution,
and television networks in Australia, Canada, the United States and a
number of European countries produced in-depth, magazine-format
presentations. The abuses were denounced in often strong editorial
comment. Apart from the support thus lent to the efforts to secure
effective intervention at the Human Rights Commission, such publicity had
the effect of introducing, usually for the first time and to an audience
of tens of millions of people, accurate and appreciative information about
Bahá’í teachings and belief. Both the publicity and the campaign being
carried on through the United Nations’ system provided influential
officials around the world with a sustained opportunity to judge for
themselves both the teachings of the Cause and the character of the Bahá’í

A problem arising out of the persecution was that faced by several
thousand Iranian Bahá’ís who found themselves either stranded without
valid passports in countries where they were serving as pioneers, or
forced to flee from Iran because they or their families had been singled
out as targets of the pogrom. In 1983, an International Bahá’í Refugee
Office was established in Canada,(139) where the government had been
particularly responsive to the representations made by the National
Spiritual Assembly of that country. Over the next few years, with the
assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, a series of
other countries likewise opened their doors to more than ten thousand
Iranian Bahá’ís, many of whom filled pioneer goals in their new places of

                                * * * * *

Not only the Bahá’í community but the United Nations’ human rights system
itself benefited from this long struggle. Initially, after the Islamic
revolution, the community of believers in Iran had faced a threat to its
very survival. In time, the United Nations Human Rights Commission,
however slow and relatively cumbersome its operations may appear to some
outside observers, succeeded in compelling the Iranian regime to bring the
worst of the persecution to a halt. In this way, the “case of Iran’s
Bahá’ís” marked a significant victory for the Commission and the Bahá’í
Faith alike. It served as a startling demonstration of the power of the
community of nations, acting through the machinery created for the
purpose, to bring under control patterns of oppression that had darkened
the pages of recorded history throughout the ages.

This circumstance highlights the relevance of the Faith’s activities to
the life of the larger society in which these efforts are taking place.
Together with world peace, the need for the international community to
take effective steps to realize the ideals in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and its related covenants is an urgent challenge facing
humanity at the present moment in its history. There are relatively few
places in the world where minority populations, because of religious,
ethnic or national prejudices, are not still denied basic human needs of
some kind. No body of people on the planet understands better this issue
than does the Bahá’í community. It has endured—continues to endure in some
lands—mistreatment for which there is no conceivable justification,
whether legal or moral; it has given its martyrs and shed its tears, while
remaining faithful to its conviction that hatred and retaliation are
corrosive to the soul; and it has learned, as few communities have done,
how to use the United Nations’ human rights system in the manner intended
by that system’s creators, without having recourse to involvement in
political partisanship of any kind, much less violence. Drawing on this
experience, it is today embarked on a programme to encourage governments
in a score of countries to institute public education programmes on the
subject of human rights, providing whatever practical assistance of its
own is possible.(140) Throughout the world, it is particularly active in
promoting the rights of women and children. Most important of all, it
provides a living example of brotherhood, from which countless people
outside its embrace derive courage and hope.

                                * * * * *

As the Iranian crisis was unfolding, an initiative taken by the Universal
House of Justice suddenly moved the external affairs work of the Bahá’í
community to an entirely new level. In 1985, the statement _The Promise of
World Peace_, addressed to the generality of humankind, was released
through National Spiritual Assemblies. In it, the House of Justice
asserted, in unprovocative but uncompromising terms, Bahá’í confidence in
the advent of international peace as the next stage in the evolution of
society. Set out, as well, were elements of the form that this
long-awaited development must take, many of which went far beyond the
political terms in which the subject is commonly discussed. It concluded:

The experience of the Bahá’í community may be seen as an example of this
enlarging unity [of humankind].... If the Bahá’í experience can contribute
in whatever measure to reinforcing hope in the unity of the human race, we
are happy to offer it as a model for study.

While the immediate purpose of the release was to provide Bahá’í
institutions and individual believers with a coherent line of discussion
for their interactions with government authorities, organizations of civil
society, the media and influential personalities, a collateral effect was
to set in motion an intensive and ongoing education of the Bahá’í
community itself in several important Bahá’í teachings. The influence of
the ideas and perspectives in the document was soon making itself widely
felt in conventions, publications, summer and winter schools, and the
general discourse of believers everywhere.

In many respects, _The Promise of World Peace _may be said to have set the
agenda for Bahá’í interaction with the United Nations and its attendant
organizations in the years since 1985. Building on the reputation it had
already won, the Bahá’í International Community became, in only a few
short years, one of the most influential of the non-governmental
organizations. Because it is, and is seen to be, entirely non-partisan, it
has increasingly been trusted as a mediating voice in complex, and often
stressful, discussions in international circles on major issues of social
progress. This reputation has been strengthened by appreciation of the
fact that the Community refrains, on principle, from taking advantage of
such trust to press partisan agendas of its own. By 1968, a Bahá’í
representative had been elected to membership on the Executive Committee
of Non-Governmental Organizations affiliated with the Office of Public
Information, subsequently holding the positions of chairman and
vice-chairman. From this point on, representatives of the Community found
themselves increasingly asked to function as convenors or chairpersons of
a wide range of bodies: committees, task forces, working groups and
advisory boards. During the past four years, the Community has served as
executive secretary of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations,
the central coordinating body of non-governmental groups affiliated with
the United Nations.

The structure of the Bahá’í International Community reflects the
principles guiding its work. It has escaped labelling as merely another
special interest lobby group. While making full use of the expertise and
executive resources of its United Nations Office and Office of Public
Information, the Community has come to be recognized by its fellow
non-governmental organizations as essentially an “association” of
democratically elected national “councils”, representative of a
cross-section of humankind. Bahá’í delegations to international events
commonly include members appointed by various National Spiritual
Assemblies who are experienced in the subject matters under discussion and
who can provide regional perspectives.

This feature of the Faith’s involvement in the life of society—in which
motivating principle and operating method represent two dimensions of a
unified approach to issues—demonstrated its power at the series of world
summits and related conferences organized by the United Nations held
between 1990 and 1996. In that period of nearly six years, the political
leaders of the world came together repeatedly under the aegis of the
Secretary-General of the United Nations to discuss the major challenges
facing humankind as the twentieth century drew to a close. No Bahá’í can
review the themes of these historic gatherings without being struck by how
closely the agenda mirrored major teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. It seemed
befitting that the centenary of His ascension should occur at the midway
point in the process, endowing the meetings, for Bahá’ís, with spiritual
meaning beyond merely their stated goals.

Among those gatherings, the World Conference on Education for All in
Thailand (1990), the World Summit for Children in New York (1990), the
United Nations Conference on the Environment in Rio de Janeiro (1992), an
anguished and chaotic World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna (1993),
the International Conference on Population in Cairo (1994), the World
Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen (1995), and the particularly
vibrant Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995),(141) stand out
as highlights of this process of global discourse on the problems
afflicting the world’s peoples. At the concurrent non-governmental
conferences, Bahá’í delegations, made up of members from a wide range of
countries, had the opportunity to place issues in a spiritual as well as
social perspective. Evidence of the trust the Community enjoys among
hundreds of its fellow non-governmental organizations was the fact that
Bahá’í delegations were repeatedly selected by their peers for inclusion
among the handful of member groups to be accorded the much prized
opportunity to address the conferences from the podium, rather than merely
distributing printed copies of presentations.

                                * * * * *

During the century’s concluding years, many National Spiritual Assemblies
won impressive victories of their own in the field of external affairs.
Two outstanding examples suggest the character and importance of these
advances. The first was achieved by the National Spiritual Assembly of
Germany, where the nature of Bahá’í elected bodies had been challenged by
local authorities as being technically incompatible with the requirements
of German civil law. In upholding the appeal of the Local Spiritual
Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Tübingen against this ruling, Germany’s
constitutional High Court concluded that the Bahá’í Administrative Order
is an integral feature of the Faith and as such is inseparable from Bahá’í
belief. The High Court justified its taking jurisdiction in the case by
adducing evidence that the Bahá’í Faith itself is a religion, a judgement
with far-reaching implications in a society where church opponents have
long sought to misrepresent the Cause as a “cult” or “sect”. The
definitive language of the judgement merits repetition:

...the character of the Bahá’í Faith as a religion and of the Bahá’í
Community as a religious community is evident, in actual every day life,
in cultural tradition, and in the understanding of the general public as
well as of the science of comparative religion.(142)

It was left to the Brazilian Bahá’í community to win a victory in the
field of external affairs that is so far unique in Bahá’í history. On 28
May 1992, its country’s highest legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies,
held a special session to pay tribute to Bahá’u’lláh on the centenary of
His ascension. The Speaker read a message from the Universal House of
Justice and representatives of all of the parties rose, one by one, to
acknowledge the contribution to human betterment of the Faith and its
Founder. A moving address by one prominent deputy described the Bahá’í
teachings as “the most colossal religious work ever written by the pen of
a single Man”.(143)

Such appreciations of the nature of the Cause and of the work it is trying
to accomplish—coming as they did from the highest judicial and legislative
levels, respectively, of two of the world’s major nations—were victories
of the spirit as important in their way as those won in the teaching
field. They help to open those doors through which Bahá’u’lláh’s healing
influence begins to touch the life of society itself.


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

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

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

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 _Sh_í‘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
_Kh_ánum, 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

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

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)


    1 Shoghi Effendi, _Advent of Divine Justice_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1990), p. 81.

    2 Shoghi Effendi, _The Promised Day is Come_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1996), p. 1.

    3 Eric Hobsbawm, _Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century,
      1914-1991_ (London: Abacus, 1995), p. 584.

    4 Leopold II, King of the Belgians, operated the colony as a private
      preserve for some three decades (1877-1908). The atrocities carried
      out under his misrule aroused international protest, and in 1908 he
      was compelled to surrender the territory to the administration of
      the Belgian government.

    5 The processes that brought about these changes are reviewed in some
      detail by A. N. Wilson, et al., _God’s Funeral_ (London: John
      Murray, 1999). In 1872, a book published by Winwood Reade under the
      title _The Martyrdom of Man_ (London: Pemberton Publishing, 1968),
      which became something of a secular “Bible” in the early decades of
      the twentieth century, expressed the confidence that “finally, men
      will master the forces of Nature. They will become themselves
      architects of systems, manufacturers of worlds. Man will then be
      perfect; he will then be a creator; he will therefore be what the
      vulgar worship as a god.” Cited by Anne Glyn-Jones, _Holding up a
      Mirror: How Civilizations Decline_ (London: Century, 1996), pp.

_    6 Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1997), p. 35, (section 15.6).

    7 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _The Secret of Divine Civilization_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1990), p. 2.

_    8 Makátíb-i-‘Abdu’l-Bahá _(Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá), vol. 4 (Tehran:
      Iran National Publishing Trust, 1965), pp. 132-134, provisional

_    9 ibid. _

_   10 ibid. _

   11 The school was closed in 1934, by order of Reza Shah, because it had
      observed Bahá’í Holy Days as religious holidays. The closing of all
      other Bahá’í schools in Iran followed.

   12 See _The Bahá’í World_, vol. XIV (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1975),
      pp. 479-481, for history.

   13 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh _ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1991), p. 156.

   14 “The outermost circle in this vast system, the visible counterpart
      of the pivotal position conferred on the Herald of our Faith, is
      none other than the entire planet. Within the heart of this planet
      lies the ‘Most Holy Land,’ acclaimed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as ‘the Nest of
      the Prophets’ and which must be regarded as the center of the world
      and the Qiblih of the nations. Within this Most Holy Land rises the
      Mountain of God of immemorial sanctity, the Vineyard of the Lord,
      the Retreat of Elijah, Whose return the Báb Himself symbolizes.
      Reposing on the breast of this holy mountain are the extensive
      properties permanently dedicated to, and constituting the sacred
      precincts of, the Báb’s holy Sepulcher. In the midst of these
      properties, recognized as the international endowments of the Faith,
      is situated the most holy court, an enclosure comprising gardens and
      terraces which at once embellish, and lend a peculiar charm to,
      these sacred precincts. Embosomed in these lovely and verdant
      surroundings stands in all its exquisite beauty the mausoleum of the
      Báb, the shell designed to preserve and adorn the original structure
      raised by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the tomb of the Martyr-Herald of our
      Faith. Within this shell is enshrined that Pearl of Great Price, the
      holy of holies, those chambers which constitute the tomb itself, and
      which were constructed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Within the heart of this
      holy of holies is the tabernacle, the vault wherein reposes the most
      holy casket. Within this vault rests the alabaster sarcophagus in
      which is deposited that inestimable jewel, the Báb’s holy dust.”
      Shoghi Effendi, _Citadel of Faith_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing
      Trust, 1995), pp. 95-96.

_   15 ibid._, p. 95.

   16 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust,
      1995), p. 276.

   17 H. M. Balyuzi, _‘Abdu’l-Bahá: The Centre of the Covenant of
      Bahá’u’lláh_, 2nd ed. (Oxford: George Ronald, 1992), p. 136.

_   18 Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá_, _op. cit._, pp.
      254-255, (section 200.3).

   19 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, p. 258.

_   20 ibid._, p. 259.

_   21 The Bahá’í Centenary, 1844-1944_, compiled by the National
      Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada
      (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1944), pp. 140-141.

   22 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, p. 280.

   23 ‘_Abdu’l-Bahá in London: Addresses and Notes of Conversations_
      (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), pp. 19-20.

   24 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _Tablets of the Divine Plan_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1993), p. 94.

   25 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, pp. 281-282.

   26 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _The Promulgation of Universal Peace _ (Wilmette:
      Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), p. 121, provisional re-translation.

_   27 Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,_ _op. cit._, p. 106,
      (section 64.1).

_   28 ibid._, p. 23, (section 7.2).

   29 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _The Promulgation of Universal Peace,_ _op. cit._, pp.

   30 Juliet Thompson, _The Diary of Juliet Thompson_ (Los Angeles:
      Kalimát Press, 1983), p. 313.

   31 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, pp. 244-245.

_   32 Bahá’í World Faith_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976), p.

   33 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Canada (Forest: National Spiritual Assembly of
      Canada, 1962), p. 51.

   34 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _Paris Talks_, 12th ed. (London: Bahá’í Publishing
      Trust, 1995), p. 64.

   35 Eric Hobsbawm, _Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century,
      1914-1991_, _op. cit._, p. 23.

_   36 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh _(Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1983), p. 264, (section CXXV).

   37 Edward R. Kantowicz, _The Rage of Nations_ (Cambridge: William B.
      Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 138. Kantowicz adds that the
      total population loss for Europe was 48 million, including 15
      million “swept away” because their run down health made them
      vulnerable to the post-war influenza epidemic, and because of the
      reduction caused by the steep drop in the birth rate consequent on
      these disasters. Hobsbawm estimates that France lost almost twenty
      percent of its men of military age, Britain lost one quarter of its
      Oxford and Cambridge graduates who served in the army during the
      war, while German losses reached 1.8 million or thirteen percent of
      their military age population. (See Eric Hobsbawm, _Age of Extremes:
      The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, op. cit._, p. 26).

   38 President Wilson has been the subject of many biographies over the
      years since his death. Three relatively recent biographies are Louis
      Auchincloss, _Woodrow Wilson_ (New York: Viking Penguin, 2000); A.
      Clements Kendrick, _Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman_ (Lawrence:
      University Press of Kansas, 1987); Thomas J. Knock, _To End All
      Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order_ (Oxford:
      Oxford University Press, 1992).

   39 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _The Promulgation of Universal Peace_,_ op. cit_., p.

   40 Shoghi Effendi, _Citadel of Faith_, _op. cit._, p. 32.

_   41 ibid._, pp. 32-33.

   42 As finally adopted, Article X of the Covenant of the League did not
      require collective military intervention in cases of aggression but
      merely stated that “...the Council shall advise upon the means by
      which this obligation shall be fulfilled.”

   43 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, pp.

   44 Shoghi Effendi, _Citadel of Faith_, _op. cit._, pp. 28-29.

_   45 ibid._, p. 7.

_   46 Selections from the Writings of the Báb_ (Haifa: Bahá’í World
      Centre, 1978), p. 56.

   47 Bahá’u’lláh, _The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book_ (Wilmette:
      Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1993), paragraph 88.

_   48 Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas _
      (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988), p. 13.

   49 The citation made reference to the value of the Master’s “advice” to
      the British military authorities who were attempting to restore
      civil life following the overthrow of the Turkish regime in the
      area, adding that “all his influence has been for good”. See Moojan
      Momen, ed., _The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions, 1844-1944: Some
      Contemporary Western Accounts _ (Oxford: George Ronald, 1981), p.

_   50 The Bahá’í World_, vol. XV (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1976), p.

   51 Horace Holley, _Religion for Mankind_ (London: George Ronald, 1956),
      pp. 243-244.

_   52 Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing
      Trust, 1991), p. 11.

   53 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, p. 326.

   54 Although the “Christmas truce” involved principally British and
      German soldiers, French and Belgian troops also participated: BBC
      News, Online Network Summary of Brown, Malcolm and Shirley Seaton,
      “Christmas Truce”.

   55 Rúḥíyyih Rabbání, _The Priceless Pearl_ (London: Bahá’í Publishing
      Trust, 1969), pp. 121, 123.

   56 Shoghi Effendi, _Bahá’í Administration_, _op. cit._, pp. 187-188,

   57 In case after case, the open misbehaviour of Shoghi Effendi’s
      brothers, sisters and cousins left him finally with no alternative
      but to advise the Bahá’í world that these individuals had violated
      the Covenant.

   58 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p. 36.

_   59 ibid._, pp. 42-43.

_   60 ibid._, p. 202.

_   61 ibid._, pp. 203-204.

   62 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p.

   63 Shoghi Effendi, _The Advent of Divine Justice_, _op. cit._, pp. 90,
      19, 85.

   64 Nabíl-i-A‘ẓam, _The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early
      Days of the Bahá’í Revelation_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust,
      1999), pp. 92-94.

   65 Shoghi Effendi, _Bahá’í Administration_, _op. cit._, p. 52.

_   66 Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,_ _op. cit._, pp.
      85-86, (section 38.5).

   67 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p. 4.

_   68 ibid._, p. 19.

_   69 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh_, _op. cit._, p. 60,
      (section XXV).

   70 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p. 19.

_   71 ibid._, p. 144.

   72 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, p. 26.

_   73 The Bahá’í World_, vol. X (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Committee,
      1949), pp. 142-149, provides a detailed survey of the expansion of
      the Cause up to the conclusion of the first Seven Year Plan.

   74 Shoghi Effendi, _Messages to Canada_, 2nd ed. (Thornhill: Bahá’í
      Canada Publications, 1999), p. 114.

   75 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, p. 365.

_   76 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh_, _op. cit._, p. 200,
      (section XCIX).

   77 Bahá’u’lláh, _The Kitáb-i-Íqán_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust,
      1983), p. 31.

   78 “In Europe at the start of the twentieth century, most people
      accepted the authority of morality.... [Then] reflective Europeans
      were also able to believe in moral progress, and to see human
      viciousness and barbarism as in retreat. At the end of the century,
      it is hard to be confident either about the moral law or about moral
      progress”: Jonathon Glover, _Humanity: A Moral History of the
      Twentieth Century_ (London: Jonathan Cape, 1999), p. 1. Glover’s
      study concentrates particularly on the rise and influence of
      twentieth century ideologies.

   79 Shoghi Effendi, _The Promised Day is Come_, _op. cit._, pp. 185-186.

_   80 ibid._

_   81 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh_, _op. cit._, pp. 65-66,
      (section XXVII).

_   82 ibid._, pp. 41-42, (section XVII).

_   83 Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,
      Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice_, compiled by the
      Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (Thornhill:
      Bahá’í Canada Publications, 1986), p. 50.

   84 Shoghi Effendi, _Messages to America_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing
      Committee, 1947), p. 28.

_   85 ibid._, pp. 9, 10, 14, 22.

_   86 ibid._, p. 28.

   87 Rúḥíyyih Rabbání, _The Priceless Pearl_, _op. cit._, p. 382.

   88 Shoghi Effendi, _Messages to America_, _op. cit._, p. 53.

   89 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p. 46.

   90 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Canada, _op. cit._, p. 51.

   91 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _The Promulgation of Universal Peace_, _op. cit._, p.

   92 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _Foundations of World Unity_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1979), p. 21.

   93 Lester Bowles Pearson (1897-1972) was awarded the 1957 Nobel prize
      for peace for his formulation of international policy in the period
      after World War II, particularly for his plan that led to the
      establishment of the first United Nations’ emergency force in the
      Suez Canal in 1956, a response to the crisis created by the invasion
      of Egypt by British and French military forces, acting in agreement
      with those of Israel, following the seizure of the Suez Canal by
      Egypt. The first formal vote of international sanctions against
      aggression, taken in 1936 by the League of Nations, when Fascist
      Italy invaded Ethiopia, was hailed by Shoghi Effendi as: “an event
      without parallel in human history”. (See Shoghi Effendi, _The World
      Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p. 191.)

   94 The three United Nations’ Secretaries-General mentioned were, in
      chronological order, Javier Pérez de Cuellar (1982-1991), Peru;
      Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-96), Egypt; Kofi Annan, (1997-present),

   95 Anne Frank (1929-1945) – Jewish youth, victim of Nazi genocide,
      captured in her family’s hiding place in the Netherlands in August
      1944 and sent to the concentration camp at Belsen, where she died a
      year later. Her diary was published in 1952 under the title _The
      Diary of a Young Girl_ and subsequently dramatized on the stage and
      in film. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) – American clergyman and
      Nobel laureate, one of the principal leaders of the American civil
      rights movement, who was assassinated on 4 April 1968 in Memphis,
      Tennessee. He is commemorated in the United States in a national
      holiday on the third Monday of January. Paulo Freire (1921-1997) –
      innovative Brazilian educator, whose pioneer work in adult education
      won him international fame, but led to two periods of imprisonment
      in his own country. Kiri Te Kanawa (1944- ) – Born in New Zealand of
      Maori ancestry, and today one of the world’s leading operatic
      _divas_. Awarded the Order of Dame Commander of the British Empire
      by H. M. Queen Elizabeth II, 1982. Gabriel García Marques (1928- ) –
      Colombian writer and novelist, winner of the Nobel prize for
      literature in 1982, who was compelled to spend the 1960s and 1970s
      in voluntary exile in Mexico and Spain to escape persecution in his
      native land. Ravi Shankar (1920- ) – Indian composer and sitarist,
      whose impressive talents and tours of Europe and North America
      contributed to the awakening of interest in Indian music throughout
      the West. Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov (1921-1989) – Russian nuclear
      physicist, who abandoned scientific research to become the leading
      spokesman for civil liberties in the Soviet Union, for which he was
      awarded the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize, while suffering internal exile
      in his own land. “Mother Teresa” (Agnes Gonxha Borjaxhiu, 1910-1997)
      – Albanian born Roman Catholic nun, founder of the Missionaries of
      Charity, whose self-sacrificing work on behalf of the poor, the
      homeless and the dying in Calcutta won her the Nobel Peace Prize in
      1979. Zhang Yimou (1951- ) – A leading director among China’s “Fifth
      Generation” film makers and winner of many professional awards for
      his sensitive and visually stunning work.

   96 The three new National Spiritual Assemblies were Canada, which
      established a National Assembly separate from that of the United
      States in 1948, and the Regional Assemblies of Central America and
      the Antilles (1951) and South America (1951).

   97 Shoghi Effendi, _Messages to the Bahá’í World, 1950-1957_ (Wilmette:
      Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), p. 41.

_   98 ibid._, pp. 38-39.

_   99 Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá_, _op. cit._, p. 13.

  100 Under the leadership of two of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s half brothers,
      Muḥammad ‘Alí and Badí‘u’lláh, together with a cousin, Majdi’d-Dín,
      the group of Covenant-breakers who had long occupied the Mansion at
      Bahjí after the death of Bahá’u’lláh carried on an unremitting
      campaign of attacks and machinations against both the Master and the
      Guardian. Under the British Mandate, they had been forced to
      evacuate the Mansion because of the neglect into which they had
      allowed it to fall, thus permitting the Guardian to restore the
      building and establish its status in the eyes of the civil
      authorities as a Holy Place. Subsequently, Shoghi Effendi secured
      from the newly established Israeli government recognition that the
      entire property had this privileged character, and an official order
      was issued, requiring the remaining Covenant-breakers to evacuate
      the unsightly building that they still occupied next to the Mansion.
      When their appeal to the Supreme Court against this judgement
      failed, the eviction order was executed, the building demolished at
      the Guardian’s instructions, and the last obstacle to the
      beautification of the property was successfully overcome.

_  101 Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas,_ _op.
      cit._, p. 68.

_  102 Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá_, _op. cit._, pp. 19-20.

  103 A full account of the role played by the Hands of the Cause during
      these critical years is provided by Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum,
      _Ministry of the Custodians_ (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1997).

  104 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p.

_  105 Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá_, _op. cit._, p. 20.

  106 Universal House of Justice, _Messages from the Universal House of
      Justice, 1963-1986: The Third Epoch of the Formative Age_ (Wilmette:
      Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1996), p. 14.

  107 The subject is discussed in a number of places throughout _The
      Priceless Pearl_, _op. cit._ See particularly pages 79, 85, 90, 128
      and 159.

_  108 Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas,_ _op.
      cit._, p. 69.

  109 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _The Secret of Divine Civilization_, _op. cit._, pp.

  110 J. E. Esslemont, _Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era: An Introduction to
      the Bahá’í Faith_, 5th rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust,
      1998), p. 250.

_  111 Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá_, _op. cit._, p. 11.

  112 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p. 8.

  113 Bahá’u’lláh, _The Kitáb-i-Aqdas_, _op. cit._, paragraph 83.

  114 Bahá’u’lláh, _Epistle to the Son of the Wolf_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í
      Publishing Trust, 1988), p. 14.

  115 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, pp.
      43, 195.

_  116 ibid._, p. 24.

_  117 Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas,_ _op.
      cit._, pp. 66-67.

  118 Shoghi Effendi, _The Advent of Divine Justice_, _op. cit._, p. 27.

_  119 The Establishment of the Universal House of Justice_, compiled by
      the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (Oakham:
      Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984), p. 17.

  120 Universal House of Justice_, Messages from the Universal House of
      Justice, 1963-1986: The Third Epoch of the Formative Age_, _op.
      cit._, p. 52.

_  121 ibid._, p. 104.

_  122 Bahá’í News_, no. 73, May 1933 (Wilmette: National Spiritual
      Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States), p. 7.

  123 The Institute was created by the Universal House of Justice in 1998
      as an agency of the Bahá’í International Community, reporting to the
      House of Justice through the Office of Public Information. Its
      mandate describes it as an agency “dedicated to researching both the
      spiritual and material underpinnings of human knowledge and the
      processes of social advancement.”

  124 The Centre’s purpose is described as undertaking “research in a
      systematic manner on the Bahá’í Faith, including its religious
      culture, humanitarian spirit and religious ethics.”

  125 Cited in _Star of the West_, vol. 13, no. 7 (October 1922), pp.

  126 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _Tablets of the Divine Plan_, _op. cit._, p. 54.

  127 Beginning in approximately 1904, a learned Iranian believer known as
      Ṣadru’ṣ-Ṣudúr established the first teacher-training class for
      Bahá’í youth in Tehran with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s encouragement. The
      classes met daily, and the graduates, who had been trained in the
      beliefs of other religions as well as various aspects of the Bahá’í
      Faith, contributed greatly to the expansion and consolidation of the
      Cause in their native land.

  128 The model in question is the “Ruhi Institute”, whose materials and
      methods have been adopted by many Bahá’í communities throughout the
      world. Its guiding philosophy is an integration of service
      activities with focused study of the Bahá’í Writings themselves.
      Organized as a series of levels of study, which form a central
      “trunk” of basic understanding of the spiritual essentials taught by
      Bahá’u’lláh, the system allows for the almost infinite development
      by various user communities of branching subsets that serve
      particular needs.

  129 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, p. xiii.

  130 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, _The Promulgation of Universal Peace,_ _op. cit._, pp.

  131 Moojan Momen, _The Babí and Bahá’í Religions, 1844-1944: Some
      Contemporary Western Accounts_, _op. cit._, pp. 186-187.

_  132 The Bahá’í World_, vol. XV, _op. cit._, pp. 29, 36.

_  133 The Bahá’í World_, vol. IV (New York City: Bahá’í Publishing
      Committee, 1933), pp. 257-261. Provides a short history of the
      bureau’s founding and operations.

_  134 The Bahá’í World_, vol. III (New York City: Bahá’í Publishing
      Committee, 1930), pp. 198-206. Contains the text of a formal
      Petition to the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League from the
      Bahá’ís of Iraq, that summarizes the history of the case.

  135 Shoghi Effendi, _God Passes By_, _op. cit._, p. 360.

  136 The full text of the Declaration may be found in _World Order
      Magazine_, April 1947, vol. XIII, No. 1.

_  137 The Bahá’í Question, Iran’s Secret Blueprint for the Destruction of
      a Religious Community, An Examination of the Persecution of the
      Bahá’ís of Iran_ (New York: Bahá’í International Community, 1999),
      prepared by the Bahá’í International Community United Nations’
      Office for distribution to members of the United Nations Human
      Rights Commission.

  138 Excerpt from an address by Edward Granville Browne, published in_
      Religious Systems of the World: A Contribution to the Study of
      Comparative Religion_, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1892), pp.

  139 During the nine years of its existence, the office was responsible
      for settling an estimated 10,000 Iranian Bahá’í refugees in
      twenty-seven countries.

  140 To date, ninety-nine National Spiritual Assemblies have received
      intensive training in the programme.

  141 The Beijing Conference on Women would have permitted fifty out of
      the two thousand non-governmental organizations involved to present
      their statements orally. Because the Bahá’í International Community
      had received this privilege at previous conferences, most notably
      that in Rio de Janeiro on the environment and that in Copenhagen on
      social and economic development, the Community’s representatives
      yielded the slot that had been accorded them, in favour of the
      Moscow Centre for Gender Studies.

  142 A full account, including the text of the decision of the German
      Federal Constitutional Court, can be found in _The Bahá’í World_,
      vol. XX (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1998), pp. 571-606.

_  143 Sessão Solene da Câmara Federal_, Brasília, 28 de Maio, 1992,
      (reprinted, with English translation by the National Spiritual
      Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Brazil, 1992).

_  144 Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,_ _op. cit._, pp.
      34-36, (section 15).

_  145 United Nations General Assembly, Fifty-Fourth Session, Agenda Item
      49 (b) United Nations Reform Measures and Proposals: the Millennium
      Assembly of the United Nations_, 8 August 2000, (Document no.
      A/54/959), p. 2.

  146 See _Commitment to Global Peace_, declaration of the Millennium
      World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, presented to
      UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 29 August 2000 during a summit
      session at the UN General Assembly.

  147 United Nations General Assembly, _Fifty-Fourth Session, Agenda Item
      61 (b) The Millennium Assembly of the United Nations_, 8 September
      2000, (Document no. A/55/L.2), section 32.

  148 The respective purposes of the three Millennium gatherings, as well
      as the involvement of the Bahá’í community in these meetings, were
      summarized in a letter from the Universal House of Justice to all
      National Spiritual Assemblies dated 24 September 2000.

  149 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p. 42.

_  150 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh_, _op. cit._, p. 297,
      (section CXXXVI).

  151 Bahá’u’lláh, _The Kitáb-i-Íqán_, _op. cit._, p. 34.

  152 Bahá’u’lláh, _Prayers and Meditations_ (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing
      Trust, 1998), p. 295, (section CLXXVIII).

  153 Shoghi Effendi, _The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,_ _op. cit._, p.

_  154 ibid._, p. 196.

  155 Bahá’u’lláh, _The Kitáb-i-Aqdas_, _op. cit._, paragraph 186.

_  156 ibid._, paragraph 54.

  157 Shoghi Effendi, _Messages to the Bahá’í World_, _1950-1957_, _op.
      cit._, p. 74.

  158 Isaiah 2.2 Authorized (King James) Version.

  159 Shoghi Effendi, _The Advent of Divine Justice_, _op. cit._, pp.

_  160 Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,_ _op. cit._, p. 317,
      (section 227.22).

_  161 The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh _(Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre,
      1967), p. 67.

_  162 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh_, _op. cit._, pp. 29-30,
      (section XIV).

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