I have sometimes heard Baha’is say that Bahá’u’lláh designated His Successor `Abdu’l-Bahá by name and in writing, in His Will and Testament; and that in turn Abdu’l-Baha designated His successor Shoghi Effendi, by name and in writing, in His Will and Testament. Then after stating that Shoghi Effendi passed away without being able to name a successor and without leaving a will, there is a somewhat vague discussion of how the Hands of the Cause led the Faith for a time, and then they called for the election of the Universal House of Justice; and that the Universal House of Justice is now the Head of the Baha’i Faith, which we Baha’is believe to be infallible.
I suggest that this approach leaves much to be desired as it greatly understates the position of the Universal House of Justice; it does not squarely state just as with Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, the Universal House of Justice is in the line of Successorship. As Shoghi Effendi writes, Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu’l-Baha have “in unequivocal and emphatic language, appointed those twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship as their chosen Successors” (The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 19-20).
The Covenant of Baha’u’llah
Let’s review the line of Successorship. In the Most Holy Book(paragraph 121) Baha’u’llah establishes His Successor by saying to “turn” to“Him … who hath branched” from Baha’u’llah, though He does not designate Him by name. Later, in His Will and Testament (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 221) He identifies this Branch—Abdu’l-Baha, then known by the title The Most Mighty Branch—and directs the Baha’is to“turn to” Him. This language “turn to”, designates the Successorship; these simple words establish Abdu’l-Baha as the Center of His Covenant—the Center to Whom everyone must turn. In another Tablet, Baha’u’llah adds, “Whoso turneth towards Him hath turned towards God, and whoso turneth away from Him hath turned away from My beauty, hath repudiated My Proof, and transgressed against Me.” (Quoted in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 135). This is Covenant language. Baha’u’llah names His Successor and implicitly promises that God will guide Him. He takes from the Baha’is a promise to turn to Him, and warns them of the consequences of turning away from Him; thus setting up both sides of the Covenant—God’s promise, and humanity’s promise.
The Covenant of Abdu’l-Baha
In His Will and Testament, p. 11, Abdu’l-Baha directs all of the Baha’is to “turn unto Shoghi Effendi.” This establishes Shoghi Effendi as Abdu’l-Baha’s Successor. Abdu’l-Baha also writes, “He that obeyeth him not, hath not obeyed God; he that turneth away from him, hath turned away from God and he that denieth him, hath denied the True One.” (The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 25) So in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament, we have a parallel to the provisions of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant.
The Twin Covenants of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha
In fact, Shoghi Effendi has written of “the twin Covenants of Bahá’u’lláh and of ‘Abdu’l-Baha” (Citadel of Faith, p. 76) and that the believers “must ponder deeply over the significance and implications of the Covenants of Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá, for these form the hub of the Bahá’í wheel, so to speak, the point of unity and strength for all the believers all over the world. Without these Covenants the Divine Protection of God over this new world Faith would not exist. Obedience to these Covenants is the stronghold of all the Bahá’ís, everywhere.” (The Light of Divine Guidance, Volume 2, p. 89.)
So when we speak of “the Baha’i Covenant,” what we really mean is what Shoghi Effendi terms “the Covenants of both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha.” (Messages to Canada letter of 26 June 1956; Letters to Australia and New Zealand 1923-1957, p. 80; Messages to the Antipodes, p. 271) The Center to whom Baha’u’llah directed everyone to turn, was Abdu’l-Baha; and the Center to whom Abdu’l-Baha directed everyone to turn, was Shoghi Effendi. Or is that correct? While it is accurate to state that Shoghi Effendi was the Successor to Abdu’l-Baha, as we will now see, it is an incomplete statement, and is not the way Shoghi Effendi himself stated it.
Through his secretary, Shoghi Effendi wrote of “the Covenant the Master made with the Bahá’ís that they should accept His administration after Him”. (Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi dated October 21, 1932; Bahá’í News #80, January, 1934, pp. 5-6)
So we see that “His administration” was Abdu’l-Baha’s Successor—meaning the twin institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. Where else does Shoghi Effendi say this? As quoted above, Shoghi Effendi wrote that“in unequivocal and emphatic language” Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha had appointed “those twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship as their chosen Successors”. (The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 19-20). Shoghi Effendi also wrote,
“Both in the administrative provisions of the Bahá’í Dispensation, and in the matter of succession, as embodied in the twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh can summon to their aid such irrefutable evidences of Divine Guidance that none can resist, that none can belittle or ignore.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 21)
Abdu’l-Baha appoints His twin successors
We see this appointment of both of these institutions in these words of Abdu’l-Baha, the closing words of His Last Will and Testament:
“All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error.”
(Will and Testament, p. 25)
We also see Covenant language in this admonition, which promises unfailing divine guidance through both Baha’u’llah (“The Abha Beauty”) and The Bab (“The Exalted One” ) to these twin institutions, and takes from the believers a Covenant to turn to them:
“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 Abha Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both). 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; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God. May the wrath, the fierce indignation, the vengeance of God rest upon him!”
(The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 11)
This strongly-worded and emphatic language warning the believers not to turn against the Guardian of the Cause or the Universal House of Justice—the very heart of Abdu’l-Baha’s Covenant—is Covenant language that exactly parallels Baha’u’llah’s admonition not to turn against Abdu’l-Baha, quoted above. It expresses what Shoghi Effendi stated are the “twin Covenants” of Baha’u’llah and of Abdu’l-Baha.
What is the Line of Succession in the Baha’i Faith?
I suggest that based on these statements in the Baha’i Writings, a more accurate statement of the line of Succession is: That Abdu’l-Baha is the immediate Successor to Baha’u’llah; and that the twin institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice are the Successors to both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha.
The Universal House of Justice is not the Head of the Baha’i Faith because the Hands of the Cause decided it should be so. The House of Justice is the Head of the Faith to which all must turn because Abdu’l-Baha designated it in His Will; and because Shoghi Effendi made clear that along with the institution of the Guardianship, the Universal House of Justice is the Successor to both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. The House of Justice is in the Line of Successorship. As we will see in another posting, Baha’u’llah provided the Universal House of Justice to be in the line of succession in His Most Holy Book.
The House of Justice has used this terminology in its own Constitution, writing that the Covenant:
“continues to fulfil its life-giving purpose through the agency of the Universal House of Justice whose fundamental object, as one of the twin successors of Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá, is to ensure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of the Faith…”
(Constitution of the Universal House of Justice, p. 4)
“Copyright Brent Poirier, used with permission” bahai-covenant.blogspot.com