While we cannot know for certain, perhaps we can reach some useful observations on why Shoghi Effendi chose to not write a last Will and Testament. We have a brief statement from the Universal House of Justice that points us in the right direction. We can also benefit from reviewing what Baha’u’llah requires to be included in a believer’s last will and testament. Finally, we can derive some useful information by reflecting on the nature and contents of the Will and Testament of Baha’u’llah and that of Abdu’l-Baha.
The requirement to write a will
In the Most Holy Book Baha’u’llah writes:
Unto everyone hath been enjoined the writing of a will. The testator should head this document with the adornment of the Most Great Name, bear witness therein unto the oneness of God in the Dayspring of His Revelation, and make mention, as he may wish, of that which is praiseworthy, so that it may be a testimony for him in the kingdoms of Revelation and Creation and a treasure with his Lord, the Supreme Protector, the Faithful. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Paragraph 109, p. 59)
From this we see that a believer’s last will and testament has both a spiritual and a physical function. The spiritual function is, as I understand it, to be a final statement of belief in the Manifestation of God, a sacred document having effect in both the physical and spiritual realms. Shoghi Effendi’s secretary wrote on his behalf, The execution of the provisions of the will causes the spirit of the deceased to rejoice in the Abha Kingdom. (Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, quoted in a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated August 24, 1982, to a National Spiritual Assembly; cited in “Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities,” a publication of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States).
In addition, the last will and testament is an appropriate document in which to make provision for the raising of one’s children, the care of one’s surviving relatives, disposition of one’s assets, provisions for treatment and burial of the body after death, payment of debts, payment of any unpaid Huquq’llah, gifts to charity, deeds to be done on one’s behalf, and the like. This is the type of will and testament that the believers are required by the provisions of the Most Holy Book to write, and this is one of the laws of the Aqdas that is presently binding on the believers. I will refer to this as a “believer’s will.”
The Will and Testament of Baha’u’llah
It is useful to contrast a believer’s will with Baha’u’llah’s Last Will and Testament, the Kitab-i-`Ahd. Of this Document, Shoghi Effendi writes:
To direct and canalize these forces let loose by this Heaven-sent process, and to insure their harmonious and continuous operation after His ascension, an instrument divinely ordained, invested with indisputable authority, organically linked with the Author of the Revelation Himself, was clearly indispensable. That instrument Baha’u’llah had expressly provided through the institution of the Covenant, an institution which He had firmly established prior to His ascension. This same Covenant He had anticipated in His Kitab-i-Aqdas, had alluded to it as He bade His last farewell to the members of His family, who had been summoned to His bed-side, in the days immediately preceding His ascension, and had incorporated it in a special document which He designated as “the Book of My Covenant,” and which He entrusted, during His last illness, to His eldest son ‘Abdu’l-Baha. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 237-238)
Baha’u’llah’s Will and Testament is concerned with the furtherance of His Cause. He makes the distinction clear between His Will and an ordinary will, from the outset. He begins His Last Will and Testament by informing us that it is not an ordinary Will that distributes one’s material possessions:
Although the Realm of Glory hath none of the vanities of the world, yet within the treasury of trust and resignation We have bequeathed to Our heirs an excellent and priceless heritage. Earthly treasures We have not bequeathed, nor have We added such cares as they entail.(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 217)
Shoghi Effendi explains that the “excellent and priceless heritage” He bestows, is His Covenant. (God Passes By, p. 314). We can see this divine purpose in the central paragraph of His Will:
The Will of the divine Testator is this: It is incumbent upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and My Kindred to turn, one and all, their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch. Consider that which We have revealed in Our Most Holy Book: ‘When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root’. The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch[‘Abdu’l-Bahá]. (Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 221)
This is the purpose of Baha’u’llah’s Will: Primarily, to designate His Successor, the One to Whom all of the believers should turn; and secondarily to give His last advice and admonitions. (Baha’u’llah addresses Abdu’l-Baha by the title He was then known by—Ghusn-i-Azam, the Most Mighty Branch. He assumed the title “Abdu’l-Baha,” literally “Servant of the Glory,” signifying Servant of Baha’u’llah, some years later.)
Shoghi Effendi makes this distinction between a believer’s will—a will primarily concerned with personal and family matters—and the Will of the Head of the Faith, when he states that the Covenant-breakers viewed the Will of Baha’u’llah as primarily concerned with the private interests of Baha’u’llah’s family whereas Abdu’l-Baha acclaimed it as a Covenant of world importance, pre-existent, peerless and unique in the history of all religions. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 248)
And this is the point: The Will of the Head of the Faith is not a private document, it is a document “of world importance.” It is a document establishing the Divine Successorship—the Headship of the Baha’i Faith; and in my opinion, this may help us to understand why Shoghi Effendi was divinely guided to write no will and testament.
The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha
The contents of the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha bear a great similarity to the contents of the Kitab-i-`Ahd, and almost no similarity to that of a believer’s will. He does make a statement of faith, but it is not a declaration of His own belief; rather, it sets forth what the Baha’is are to believe. He writes:
This is the foundation of the belief of the people of Baha (may my life be offered up for them): ‘His Holiness, the Exalted One (the Bab), is the Manifestation of the Unity and Oneness of God and the Forerunner of the Ancient Beauty. His Holiness the Abha Beauty (may my life be a sacrifice for His steadfast friends) is the Supreme Manifestation of God and the Dayspring of His Most Divine Essence. All others are servants unto Him and do His bidding.’ (The Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 19-20)
There is no private aspect to Abdu’l-Baha’s Will. It makes no reference to His personal possessions, or to their distribution. It does not make provision for His wife or His children, all of whom were adults; Shoghi Effendi saw to the needs of the Holy Mother until the end of her life. Abdu’l-Baha’s Will bears almost no relation to the “testament” that Baha’u’llah directs every believer to write. The only significant parallel, is that it is a document intended to be carried out after His passing. As to the spiritual provisions of the Will, it is not the expression of faith of an individual believer; it is rather a command to the believers and the people of the world. It establishes the institutions to guide the Baha’i community, and describes the necessary civil international institutions to govern the world at large. It does not provide for payment of Huquq’u’llah or for contribution to the Baha’i Fund; Abdu’l-Baha (and Shoghi Effendi after Him) was the recipient of these resources, not the donor. My personal understanding is that Abdu’l-Baha did not write His Will because the law of the Aqdas required the writing of a “believer’s will.” His Will and Testament is far, far greater in importance than a believer’s will.
What would have been the character of the last Will and Testament of Shoghi Effendi?
The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha contained this instruction:
O ye beloved of the Lord! It is incumbent upon the Guardian of the Cause of God to appoint in his own life-time him that shall become his successor, that differences may not arise after his passing. He that is appointed must manifest in himself detachment from all worldly things, must be the essence of purity, must show in himself the fear of God, knowledge, wisdom and learning. Thus, should the first-born of the Guardian of the Cause of God not manifest in himself the truth of the words: — ‘The child is the secret essence of its sire,’ that is, should he not inherit of the spiritual within him (the Guardian of the Cause of God) and his glorious lineage not be matched with a goodly character, then must he, (the Guardian of the Cause of God) choose another branch to succeed him.(The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 12)
The Guardian of the Cause is to appoint in his own life-time him that shall become his successor. Neither Baha’u’llah nor Abdu’l-Baha had made known the identity of Their Successors during Their lifetimes. They had appointed Their Successors during Their lifetimes, by specifying them in Their Wills, but had not made their identities known; this information was only promulgated after Their Ascensions. There is no provision directing the Guardian to make known the identity of the successor Guardian to the Baha’i community during his lifetime, nor is there a provision stating that his selection should be made in writing in his own last Will and Testament.
The Guardian of the Cause is directed to choose his successor, and to make the identity of his successor known to certain individuals during his own lifetime—the most distinguished believers in the world—the nine Hands of the Cause of God who work most closely with the Guardian:
The Hands of the Cause of God must elect from their own number nine persons that shall at all times be occupied in the important services in the work of the Guardian of the Cause of God. The election of these nine must be carried either unanimously or by majority from the company of the Hands of the Cause of God and these, whether unanimously or by a majority vote, must give their assent to the choice of the one whom the Guardian of the Cause of God hath chosen as his successor. This assent must be given in such wise as the assenting and dissenting voices may not be distinguished (i.e., secret ballot). (The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 12)
Putting all of this together, and making certain extrapolations, here is my personal understanding of how these provisions in the Master’s Will might have been carried out had the circumstances allowed. The Guardian would select his successor, and, following the example of his Forbears, name him in writing in his own Will and Testament. He would then present his Will and Testament to the nine Hands of the Cause, who would familiarize themselves with the appearance of the Will, and give their assent to the Guardian’s choice of successor. Perhaps they would all have countersigned the Will, confirming it as the Guardian’s Will and Testament, and assenting to his choice of successor Guardian.
After the passing of the Guardian, these Hands would then present to the Universal House of Justice the Will and Testament of the Guardian. They would confirm that it was the same document that the Guardian had presented to them. The Universal House of Justice and the nine Hands would then present the new Guardian to the Baha’i world. These high officers who had been the closest persons to Shoghi Effendi, would be the first to turn to his successor Guardian. All of the Baha’is would be assured by this that the Guardian’s will was authentic, and that that successor was the one who had actually been chosen by Shoghi Effendi. This is conjecture on my part, based on my understanding that Abdu’l-Baha put these provisions in His Will for unmistakable clarity, as safeguards to remove all doubt and place the successorship on an absolutely clear foundation. As He wrote in a passage quoted above, these provisions were so that differences would not arise.
The choice of successor had to be during “his own life-time” because the Master’s Will required the Guardian to provide the identity of his successor to the nine Hands of the Cause for their assent. He would be of course available to them to personally verify the authenticity of his Will and his choice of successor; so that these Hands could, in turn, provide ironclad assurance to the Baha’i world when the time came, adding their personal testimony—these most trustworthy of all the believers in the world—to the written provisions in the Guardian’s Will and Testament. During the lifetime of Shoghi Effendi he did not direct the Hands of the Cause to elect nine of their members to be involved in the important work of the Guardian; nor did he identify a successor Guardian, or show a Will and Testament to anyone.
Protection of the personal papers of Shoghi Effendi after his passing
Immediately upon the death of Shoghi Effendi, the Hands of the Cause of God secured the office and living quarters of Shoghi Effendi with iron bars and padlocks, and took other steps to insure that the personal papers of Shoghi Effendi would not be disturbed. Following Shoghi Effendi’s funeral, the first Hands to return to the Holy Land opened the padlocked iron bars, entered the office of Shoghi Effendi, and placed seals on his safe and on his desk drawers. (Ministry of the Custodians, p. 26)
Four days later when all of the Hands who could travel had arrived in the Holy Land, nine Hands of the Cause entered the Guardian’s quarters, verified that the seals were all intact and carefully searched the safe and the desk of Shoghi Effendi. They confirmed to their fellow Hands that he did not leave a Will and Testament. (Ministry of the Custodians, pp. 27-28)
Unanimous Proclamation of the Hands of the Cause of God stating that Shoghi Effendi designated no successorThe Hands of the Cause then held their First Conclave, in the Mansion of Bahji, at the conclusion of which they issued a number of documents. In their “Unanimous Proclamation” issued on November 25, 1957 the Hands of the Cause proclaimed that His Eminence the late Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, passed away in London (England) on the 4th of November, 1957, without having appointed his successor. This Proclamation was signed by all of the Hands of the Cause of God. (Ministry of the Custodians, pp. 28-30)
On the same date, November 25, 1957, the Hands of the Cause issued a Proclamation to the Baha’is of East and West, which contains this statement which is relevant to our subject:
” On November 18th the Hands conducted a Memorial Meeting at Bahji, in the Haram-i-Aqdas surrounding the most sacred Shrine in the Bahá’í world, afterward entering the Holy Tomb itself and prostrating ourselves in utter humility at the Sacred Threshold.
“On the following morning, November 19th, nine Hands of the Cause, selected from the Holy Land, and the several continents of East and West, with Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, broke the seals placed upon the beloved Guardian’s safe and desk and made careful examination of their precious contents. These same Hands, rejoining the other Hands assembled in the Mansion of Baha’u’llah at Bahji, certified that Shoghi Effendi had left no Will and Testament. It was likewise certified that the beloved Guardian had left no heir. The Aghsan (branches) one and all are either dead or have been declared violators of the Covenant by the Guardian for their faithlessness to the Master’s Will and Testament and their hostility to him named first Guardian in that sacred document.
“The first effect of the realization that no successor to Shoghi Effendi could have been appointed by him was to plunge the Hands of the Cause into the very abyss of despair….” (Ministry of the Custodians, pp. 35-36)
Please observe that all of the Hands of the Cause of God, including his widow Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, and including Charles Mason Remey, an American who later had the temerity to claim to be one of the Aghsan and Shoghi Effendi’s hereditary successor, certified:
~That Shoghi Effendi left no will and testament
~That Shoghi Effendi left no heir
~That the Aghsan had all broken the Covenant
~That Shoghi Effendi could not have appointed a successor Guardian
As the Universal House of Justice has written:
Thus, as the Hands of the Cause stated in 1957, it is clear that there was no one he could have appointed in accordance with the provisions of the Will. To have made an appointment outside the clear and specific provisions of the Master’s Will and Testament would have obviously been an impossible and unthinkable course of action for the Guardian, the divinely appointed upholder and defender of the Covenant.(“The Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice,” letter dated 27 May 1966, “Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986,” paragraph 35.2, p. 83)
As provided in the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha (p. 12) Shoghi Effendi was to designate his eldest son as his successor for the hereditary office of the Guardianship. If his eldest son lacked the necessary qualifications, he was to select “another branch,” another of the Aghsan, the male lineage of Baha’u’llah, as his successor Guardian. As explained elsewhere on this site, the Guardianship was a hereditary office, and Shoghi Effendi could only choose his successor from among his sons or the other male descendants of Baha’u’llah. The male descendants of Baha’u’llah would have included Shoghi Effendi’s brothers and male cousins, as well as the male descendants of the three half-brothers of Abdu’l-Baha. However, as the Hands certified, each and every one of them had broken the Covenant and had been expelled from the Faith by either Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi. The subject of why the Aghsan were all expelled is addressed in Adib Taherzadeh’s book “The Child of the Covenant” pp. 305-310, and in Chapter 32 of his book, “The Covenant of Baha’u’llah.”
Why didn’t Shoghi Effendi write a last Will and Testament?
In my view, Shoghi Effendi did not write a will, because he had nothing to write in it. The heart of Baha’u’llah’s Will was His designation of Abdu’l-Baha as His Successor. The heart of Abdu’l-Baha’s Will was His designation of the twin institutions of the Universal House of Justice and the Guardian of the Cause as His Successors. Neither the Will and Testament of Baha’u’llah nor the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha contained the ordinary provisions for a believer’s will, required by the Most Holy Book—it was beneath the station of these Documents. In my personal view, Their example shows that the Head of the Faith was not obligated to write a Will providing for distribution of His possessions. These Wills had a higher function as Documents of Succession. In the absence of a successor, Shoghi Effendi’s could not write a will leaving his few worldly possessions—his garments to this person, his pens and map-making instruments to that person—it was unworthy of the station of the Will of the Head of the Faith. Since Shoghi Effendi could not designate a successor Guardian, he left no will.
A sign of his infallible guidance
The Universal House of Justice has written:
The fact that Shoghi Effendi did not leave a will cannot be adduced as evidence of his failure to obey Bahá’u’lláh — rather should we acknowledge that in his very silence there is a wisdom and a sign of his infallible guidance (“The Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice,” letter dated 27 May 1966, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, paragraph 35.3, p. 84)
Shoghi Effendi was, in every area of his life, a very meticulous and consummately responsible man. How much more, when it came to the Cause of God—he put it first and above all else. He had no male heir to name as his successor. He was keenly aware that the spiritual extinction of the Aghsan meant that he could not designate “another branch” as his successor. He did not write a will, not because he forgot, not because he was too busy, not because, God forbid, he was disobedient to either the law of the Aqdas, or to the provision in the Master’s Will to designate a successor Guardian. He was silent, as the House of Justice writes, because he was guided by God to be silent.
Shoghi Effendi was the infallible Interpreter of the Word of God. However, just as the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice extends to matters besides the enactment of legislation, the infallibility of the Guardian includes matters besides interpretation. Shoghi Effendi stated more than once that he was infallible in the protection of the Faith:
Just as the National Assembly has full jurisdiction over all its local Assemblies, the Guardian has full jurisdiction over all National Assemblies; he is not required to consult them, if he believes a certain decision is advisable in the interests of the Cause. He is the judge of the wisdom and advisability of the decisions made by these bodies, and not they of the wisdom and advisability of his decisions. A perusal of the Will and Testament makes this principle quite clear. He is the Guardian of the Cause in the very fullness of that term, and the appointed interpreter of its teachings, and is guided in his decisions to do that which protects it and fosters its growth and highest interests.(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian dated May 13, 1945, Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand, pp. 55-56)
The Guardian’s infallibility covers interpretation of the Revealed Word and its application. Likewise any instructions he may issue having to do with the protection of the Faith, or its well being must be closely obeyed, as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith. He is assured the guidance of both Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, as the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá clearly reveals. (From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer dated August 20, 1956; Lights of Guidance, p. 313, #1055)
The Guardian was infallibly guided in the protection of the Faith; and there is no matter more intimately connected with protection than what he himself terms “the all-important subject of the succession.” (God Passes By, p. 213) Shoghi Effendi was incapable of making a mistake in this area.Likewise, in my personal view, Shoghi Effendi did not direct the Hands of the Cause to elect nine of their members, because the most important work of these nine would have been to give their assent to the Guardian’s choice of successor. Since he could not name a successor, it was not yet time for this body within the institution of the Hands to be brought into being.
After the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha continued to protect and guide the Cause of God. Pursuant to its provisions, the body termed by Shoghi Effendi’that fountain-head of God’s World Order,‘ the Universal House of Justice, was first elected in 1963.
As explained elsewhere on this site, the Universal House of Justice is not Shoghi Effendi’s successor, nor the successor to the Hands of the Cause of God. The Universal House of Justice, to which all must turn (Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 26) is one of the twin successors of Abdu’l-Baha, named in the same Document that provided the authority for Shoghi Effendi to lead the Faith.
There being no successor to Shoghi Effendi as Guardian of the Cause of God, the Universal House of Justice is the Head of the Faith and its supreme institution, to which all must turn, and on it rests the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the unity and progress of the Cause of God. (The Constitution of The Universal House of Justice, p. 4)