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Century of Light

  • Author:
  • Universal House of Justice

  • Source:
  • Bahá’í World Centre, 2001 edition
  • Pages:
  • 157
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Pages 65-83


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—muballighín—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 66 peoples of the world, and their endeavours are greater. They are confirmed by divine bestowals and blessings. 1
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 67 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. 2
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 68 Báb has heralded, which the mind of Bahá’u’lláh has envisioned, and whose features ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, its Architect, has delineated…." 3
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. 4
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". 69 Rúḥíyyih Khánum 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. 5
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 70 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 71 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." 6
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." (78:20) 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. 7 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." 8 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 72 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. 9 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." 10
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. 11 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 73 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 74 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. 12
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. 13 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 75 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 76 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 77 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 finished. 14
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 Riḍván 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. 15 78
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. 16
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 79 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 80 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. 17
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. 18 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. 81
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. 19
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 words:
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 82 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. 20
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. 21 83
1. 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.   [ Back To Reference]
2. Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1947), p. 28.   [ Back To Reference]
3. ibid., pp. 9, 10, 14, 22.   [ Back To Reference]
4. ibid., p. 28.   [ Back To Reference]
5. Rúḥíyyih Rabbání, The Priceless Pearl, op. cit., p. 382.   [ Back To Reference]
6. Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America, op. cit., p. 53.   [ Back To Reference]
7. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, op. cit., p. 46.   [ Back To Reference]
8. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Canada, op. cit., p. 51.   [ Back To Reference]
9. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, op. cit., p. 377.   [ Back To Reference]
10. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979), p. 21.   [ Back To Reference]
11. 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.)   [ Back To Reference]
12. 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), Ghana.   [ Back To Reference]
13. 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.   [ Back To Reference]
14. 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).   [ Back To Reference]
15. Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá’í World, 1950–1957 (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), p. 41.   [ Back To Reference]
16. ibid., pp. 38–39.   [ Back To Reference]
17. Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, op. cit., p. 13.   [ Back To Reference]
18. 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.   [ Back To Reference]
19. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, op. cit., p. 68.   [ Back To Reference]
20. Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, op. cit., pp. 19–20.   [ Back To Reference]
21. 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).   [ Back To Reference]