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Hands of the Cause (Ayádí Amr Alláh)

by Denis MacEoin

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 3
New York: Columbia University, 1989
AYĀDĪ-E AMR ALLĀH, “Hands of the Cause of God” (sing. also ayādī, normally preceded by the reverential term ḥażrat), term used in Bahaʾism to designate the highest rank of the appointed religious hierarchy. In early Babism, an attempt was made to establish a hierarchical system based on eighteen groups of nineteen believers under the overall authority of a nineteenth group consisting of the Bāb and his first eighteen disciples, the Letters of the Living (ḥorūf al-ḥayy) or Foregoers (sābeqūn); but there is no evidence that, apart from the latter group, this system was ever made effective. Later Bābi writings such as the Persian Bayān and Panj šaʾn speak of “mirrors” (marāyā), “glasses” (bolūrīyāt), “guides” (adellāʾ), “letters” (ḥorūf, ḥorūfāt), and “witnesses” (šohadāʾ) (see Panj šaʾn, pp. 34, 63, 102, 120, 128, 131, 134-35, 136, 149, 163, 176, 184-85, 193, 200, 209, 235, 247, 257, 280; Bayān-e fārsī, pp. 82, 89, 90, 91, 165, 180); but no systematic attempt seems to have been made to create an organized structure based on any of these groupings. In the 1850s, Mīrzā Yaḥyā Ṣobḥ-e Azal, as the generally-recognized successor of the Bāb, did attempt to organize a system of agents, to whom he gave the title šohadāʾ, but this never developed into a permanent leadership cadre.

With the emergence of Bahaʾism in a context of conflicting claims to leadership within the Bābi community, any attempt to formalize a hierarchy was abandoned. In reinforcement of his own claim to be the messianic fulfillment of Babism, Bahāʾallāh argued that the Bāb had abrogated the rank of successor (waṣī) and that in the Bayān only “letters” and “mirrors” had been named, the latter being “unlimited” (mārāyā rā ham maḥdūd na-farmūda-and; Lawḥ-e serāj, p. 40). As the new movement developed, however, it became necessary to delegate certain essential religious functions to various individuals and, towards the end of Bahāʾallāh’s life, two small groups emerged as possible nuclei for a more developed hierarchical structure. These were known as Names of God (asmāʾ Allāh; e.g., esm-Allāh al-mīm, esm Allāh al-jamāl) and Hands of the Cause of God. The latter group consisted of four individuals: Ḥājjī Mollā ʿAlī-Akbar Šahmīrzādī, Ḥājjī Mīrzā Moḥammad-Taqī Abharī (Ebn Abhar), Mīrzā Moḥammad-Ḥasan Adīb-al-ʿolamāʾ, and Mīrzā ʿAlī-Moḥammad (Ebn Aṣdaq). Their functions seem to have been to promulgate Bahaʾism, to organize the community of believers in Iran, to advance arguments against opponents (particularly against the Azali Bābis), and to preserve doctrinal unity.

On the death of Bahāʾallāh in 1892, the rank of esm Allāh seems to have fallen into desuetude (partly through defection), but the four Hands continued to function under the direction of Bahāʾallāh’s son and successor ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. The latter referred in writing to a number of individuals as ayādī, but made no formal appointments to this position. He did, however, define their functions more clearly in his Will and Testament (Alwāḥ-e waṣāyā), where he also indicated that his successor, the future Guardian of the Cause (walīy-e amr Allāh), was to appoint such individuals and direct their activities. In effect, these Hands were to form a religious aristocracy under the leadership of the head of the faith. Shoghi Effendi, who succeeded to the position of walī in 1921, made only eight posthumous appointments, for the most part westerners, between then and 1951. In that year, he appointed twelve living Hands, three each in Israel, Iran, America, and Europe. In 1952 the number was raised to nineteen, a figure maintained by new appointments following the deaths of several individuals until 1957, when the total was again raised to twenty-seven.

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