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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 83-87


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 84 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 words:
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. 1
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. 2
In conformity with this guidance from the pen of the Centre of the Covenant, Shoghi Effendi remained silent, leaving the question of his 85 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. 3
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 Khánum 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 86 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. 4
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. 87
1. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, op. cit., p. 148.   [ Back To Reference]
2. Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, op. cit., p. 20.   [ Back To Reference]
3. 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.   [ Back To Reference]
4. The subject is discussed in a number of places throughout The Priceless Pearl, op. cit. See particularly pages 79, 85, 90, 128 and 159.   [ Back To Reference]