Dissociation with Covenant-Breakers
The history of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is replete with glorious episodes of steadfastness to Bahá'u'lláh and loyalty to His Covenant, of heroism and sacrifice. There are also dark pages of violation and treachery. These contrasting features of light and darkness, of truth and falsehood are interwoven.
The preceding chapters of this book mainly recount stories of the Covenant-breakers' unfaithfulness and betrayal, which caused much agony and hardship for the Master. In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes their attacks on the Cause and the sufferings they inflicted on His person over a period of almost 15 years. He refers to Mirza Muhammad-'Ali's hatred, describes his unrelenting attacks on the Cause, enumerates his manifold violations of the Covenant, and foreshadows, in emphatic terms, the frustration of his schemes and his eventual extinction, a prophecy soon fulfilled. Referring to him in His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:
5-WT And now ye are witnessing how the wrath of God hath
from all sides afflicted him and how day by day he is speeding
towards destruction. Ere long will ye behold him and his associates,
outwardly and inwardly, condemned to utter ruin.
These passages of the Will and Testament constitute dark and gloomy pages in the history of the Faith. Then, having dwelt at length on these tragic events, 'Abdu'l-Bahá turns His attention to the glorious features of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh. He directs the believers to observe at all times the ordinances of God, to uphold the standard of faithfulness and to arise in the promotion of the teachings in a spirit of selflessness and detachment from all worldly things, as seen in the following exhortations:
23-WT O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation,
conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every
aggressor deprives himself of God's grace. It is incumbent upon
everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct,
straight-forwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and
kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense
must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger
may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference
whatsoever existing between them. For universality is of
God and all limitations earthly. Thus man must strive that his
reality may manifest virtues and perfections, the light whereof
may shine upon everyone. The light of the sun shineth upon all
the world and the merciful showers of Divine Providence fall
upon all peoples. The vivifying breeze reviveth every living
creature and all beings endued with life obtain their share and
portion at His heavenly board. In like manner, the affections and
loving kindness of the servants of the One True God must be
bountifully and universally extended to all mankind. Regarding
this, restrictions and limitations are in no wise permitted.
Wherefore, O my loving friends! Consort with all the peoples,
kindred and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness,
uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness,
that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of
the grace of Baha, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancour may
vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst
the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light
of Unity. Should other peoples and nations be unfaithful to you
show your fidelity unto them, should they be unjust toward you
show justice towards them, should they keep aloof from you
attract them to yourselves, should they show their enmity be
friendly towards them, should they poison your lives, sweeten
their souls, should they inflict a wound upon you, be a salve to
their sores. Such are the attributes of the sincere! Such are the
attributes of the truthful.
The exhortation to consort with the peoples and religions of the world with the utmost love and fellowship should not be confused with the commandment to shun entirely the Covenant-breakers. Covenant-breaking is a deadly spiritual disease and never before in the history of religion have its pernicious effects been brought to light. In this Dispensation, however, the position of the Covenant-breakers and their spiritual condition have been exposed and fully examined. As we have described in chapter 3, Covenant-breaking provokes the wrath of God. Therefore, when a believer breaks the Covenant, his spiritual lifeline is cut off. Although he may have great knowledge of the teachings and the history of the Faith and may have had a brilliant record of service to the Cause, he becomes a lifeless being. Spiritually he turns blind and deaf; his heart becomes cold and bereft of faith. In reality he is not the same person any more. This is the reason why the violators of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh acted in the way they did.
As previously noted, in nature water can only flow from a high level to a lower one. It cannot flow to a point on the same level or to a higher one. Similarly, in order for a believer to receive the bounties of God
from on high, he must be positioned at the opposite end of the scale: lowly, humble and self-effacing. The Covenant-breakers were not. They aspired to be equal to the Centre of the Covenant and thus the spiritual energies released by God could not reach them and they became deprived of the outpouring of the spirit of faith. Their lives, once guided by the Light of Truth, were now based on falsehood. Deception, intrigue, dishonesty and violence became their way of life. Throughout the ages these vices have proved to be the weapons which the ungodly use against the righteous. But in the end they are obliterated by the power of truth.
These unholy characteristics are not exclusive to the violators at the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Covenant-breakers who opposed Shoghi Effendi and those who appeared after his passing conducted their shameful careers in the same
It is necessary here to distinguish between enemies of the Faith and Covenant-breakers. The former attack the Cause of God mainly through ignorance, and perhaps they will be forgiven by God. The latter, however, know where the Source of Truth is but are unable to turn to it; instead, for their own selfish reasons, they knowingly rise up against it. To inflict harm upon a human being is reprehensible in the sight of God and perhaps can be forgiven by Him. But to wilfully oppose the Cause of the Almighty and to strike at its roots, as the violators of the Covenant do, are grave transgressions which without repentance are unforgivable.
The subject of Covenant-breaking was frequently broached by the Master, according to Dr Yunis Khan's testimony. In order to protect the community horn the Covenant-breakers' poisonous influence, 'Abdu'l-Bahá used to speak about their schemes and intrigues, their plots and conspiracies. He often likened Covenant-breaking to a contagious disease: the only way to prevent it from spreading is to confine the patient and place him in quarantine. Infectious disease spreads rapidly and can affect a multitude. For that reason, He said, protecting the believers from this deadly disease was imperative and could be achieved only by cutting off association with the Covenant-breakers.
In one of His last messages to the American believers 'Abdu'l-Bahá warned of the consequences of association with the Covenant-breakers. He cabled them:
He who sits with leper catches leprosy. He who is with Christ shuns
Pharisees and abhors Judas Iscariots. Certainly shun violators...
[206 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Star of the West, vol. 12, no. 14, p. 233.]
In many of their Tablets Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá have emphatically warned the believers to avoid associating with the Covenant-breakers.
In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá admonishes them in these words:
38-WT And now, one of the greatest and most fundamental
principles of the Cause of God is to shun and avoid entirely the
Covenant-breakers, for they will utterly destroy the Cause of
God, exterminate His Law and render of no account all efforts
exerted in the past. O friends! It behoveth you to call to mind
with tenderness the trials of His Holiness, the Exalted One, and
show your fidelity to the Ever-Blest Beauty. The utmost
endeavour must be exerted lest all these woes, trials and afflictions,
all this pure and sacred blood that hath been shed so
profusely in the Path of God, may prove to be in vain.
Again 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes in the third part of the Will and Testament:
52-WT Hence, the beloved of the Lord must entirely shun
them, avoid them, foil their machinations and evil whisperings,
guard the Law of God and His religion, engage one and all in
diffusing widely the sweet savours of God and to the best of their
endeavour proclaim His Teachings.
In answer to a question about 'shunning', 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote:
Thou hadst asked some questions; that why the blessed and
spiritual souls, who are firm and steadfast, shun the company of
degenerate persons. This is because, that just as bodily diseases
... are contagious, likewise the spiritual diseases are also infectious.
If a consumptive should associate with a thousand safe and
healthy persons, the safety and health of these thousand persons
would not affect the consumptive and would not cure him of his
consumption. But when this consumptive associates with those
thousand souls, in a short time the disease of consumption will
infect a number of those healthy persons. This is a clear and self-evident
[207 ibid. ('Abdu'l-Bahá in Star of the West, vol. 12, no. 14, p. 233.)]
To check the spread of this spiritual disease, it is necessary not only to shun the Covenant-breakers but also to expel them from the community in the same way that a cancerous growth is cut out of the body. As has already been stated in the Introduction, the Prophets of old did not establish a firm and explicit Covenant with their followers and so the adherents of past religions did not enjoy this protection. A look at the history of religions, which clearly reveals the many schisms that have taken place, will amply demonstrate the danger. If, in this Dispensation, the Covenant-breakers had not been expelled and had been allowed to associate freely with the believers, after a short time the Bahá'í community, like other religions, would have been divided into sects. Its unity, which is its distinguishing feature, would have been destroyed forever and its goal of establishing the oneness of mankind on this planet brought to naught.
To illustrate this point, let us examine some of the laws of nature as applied to the human body. The Cause of God may be likened to the body of man which, when healthy, can withstand manifold external pressures. It can endure extremes of temperature, overcome thirst and hunger, defend itself when confronted with hardship and preserve its wholesomeness against the effects of disease. Similarly the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh can withstand the onslaught of its external enemies and can resist every opposition from its adversaries. All the persecutions whereby thousands of its followers were martyred have failed to extinguish its light, destroy its unity or undermine its rising institutions.
On the other hand, a healthy person can be fatally afflicted if poison is allowed to enter and circulate in his blood stream. Nature, however, has provided the body with an immune system which removes the unwanted poisonous substances from the blood stream and discharges them at intervals, thus cleansing the body from their deadly effects and ensuring its health and well-being.
It is the same with the Cause of God. Bahá'u'lláh has provided an instrument for casting out any individual who, while claiming to be a believer, opposes the Centre of the Cause and tries to remain in the community to disrupt its foundations. When the unwholesome elements, those egotistical personalities who lust for power and are ready to sacrifice the religion of God to their own selfish desires, are expelled from the Faith, the community, cleansed from the poison of Covenant-breaking, acquires a fresh vitality and vigour. It is enabled to maintain its health and continue its forward march towards ultimate victory.
During the days of Bahá'u'lláh the authority to expel Covenant-breakers was vested only in Him. Later it devolved upon 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as the Centre of the Covenant, and then upon Shoghi Effendi, as the Guardian of the Cause. Today this expulsion takes place by decision of the Hands of the Cause of God[*] residing in the Holy Land, subject to the approval of the Universal House of Justice.
[* The functions of the Hands of the Cause, as defined in the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, are mainly the protection and propagation of the Faith. Those Hands of the Cause now living were appointed by the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi.]
No one is lightly or hurriedly declared a Covenant-breaker by the Centre of the Cause. Great efforts are made to enlighten the individual and guide him to the path of truth. Only when every possible effort to save him from his spiritual downfall has failed will he be expelled from the community. For example, 'Abdu'l-Bahá made every endeavour during the first few years of His ministry to change the attitude of His unfaithful brothers; only after they failed to heed His counsels and intensified their rebellion did He declare them to be Covenant-breakers and cast them out of the community.
Never before has a Manifestation of God created the instrument whereby the breakers of His Covenant, those who oppose the Centre of the Cause from within the community, are cast out. This is one of the unique features of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, providing a means by which the Cause of God is purged from impurities.
It is important to note that should a Covenant-breaker recognize his mistakes, become conscious of his transgressions against the Cause of God and find the urge to repent, the Centre of the Cause, when satisfied he is sincerely repentant, will forgive his past deeds and restore his credibility and status as a Bahá'í in good standing in the community.
The protection of the Cause from the intrusion of the Covenant-breakers is the most vital duty of the institutions of the Faith, both at present and in the future. Around the time when the perils threatening the life of 'Abdu'l-Bahá were greatest and He wrote in His Will and Testament, 'I am now in very great danger and the hope of even an hour's life is lost to me', He took a special measure for the protection of the Cause of God. Since Shoghi Effendi, whom He had designated as the Guardian of the Cause, was at that time a child of about ten years of age, 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote a Tablet of great significance to Haji Mirza Muhammad-Taqi, the Vakilu'd-Dawlih, a cousin of the Bab.[*] In it He intimated that great dangers surrounded His person, and urged him to make arrangements, if necessary: for the election of the Universal House of Justice. To bring this about, He directed him to gather the Afnan[**] and the Hands of the Cause in one place and establish this institution in accordance with the provisions of His Will and Testament.
[208 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Will and Testament, para. 38.]
[* The Vakilu'd-Dawlih was a distinguished believer who was designated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá as one of the 'four and twenty elders which sat before God on their seats' mentioned in chapter 11 of the Revelation of St John the Divine. Of the other 23 'elders', only 19 have been named by 'Abdu'l-Bahá i.e. the Bab and the 18 'Letters of the Living'.]
[** The kinsmen of the Bab and those of His wife.]
'Abdu'l-Bahá attached great importance to the protection of the Cause. He refers to it several times in His Will and Testament:
10-WT Lord! Shield Thou from these Covenant-breakers the
mighty Stronghold of Thy Faith and protect Thy secret Sanctuary
from the onslaught of the ungodly. Thou art in truth the
Mighty, the Powerful, the Gracious, the Strong.
36-WT O dearly beloved friends! I am now in very great danger
and the hope of even an hour's life is lost to me. I am thus
constrained to write these lines for the protection of the Cause
of God, the preservation of His Law, the safeguarding of His
Word and the safety of His Teachings. By the Ancient Beauty!
This wronged one hath in no wise borne nor doth he bear a
grudge against any one; towards none doth he entertain any ill-feeling
and uttereth no word save for the good of the world. My
supreme obligation, however, of necessity, prompteth me to
guard and preserve the Cause of God. Thus, with the greatest
regret, I counsel you saying: — Guard ye the Cause of God,
protect His law and have the utmost fear of discord.
42-WT O ye beloved of the Lord! Strive with all your heart to
shield the Cause of God from the onslaught of the insincere, for
souls such as these cause the straight to become crooked and all
benevolent efforts to produce contrary results.
4O God, my God! I call Thee, Thy Prophets and Thy
Messengers, Thy Saints and Thy Holy Ones, to witness that I
have declared conclusively Thy Proofs unto Thy loved ones and
set forth clearly all things unto them, that they may watch over
Thy Faith, guard Thy Straight Path and protect Thy Resplendent
Law. Thou art, verily, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise!
In one of His Tablets 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes the Covenant-breakers as dead bodies which the ocean casts out upon its shores:
The tests of every dispensation are in direct proportion to the
greatness of the Cause, and as heretofore such a manifest Covenant,
written by the Supreme Pen, hath not been entered upon,
the tests are proportionately more severe. These trials cause the
feeble souls to waver while those who are firm are not affected.
These agitations of the violators are no more than the foam of the
ocean, which is one of its inseparable features; but the ocean of
the Covenant shall surge and shall cast ashore the bodies of the
dead, for it cannot retain them. Thus it is seen that the ocean of
the Covenant hath surged and surged until it hath thrown out the
dead bodies — souls that are deprived of the Spirit of God and are
lost in passion and self and are seeking leadership. This foam of
the ocean shall not endure and shall soon disperse and vanish,
while the ocean of the Covenant shall eternally surge and roar...
From the early days of creation down to the present time,
throughout all the divine dispensations, such a firm and explicit
Covenant hath not been entered upon. In view of this fact is it
possible for this foam to remain on the surface of the ocean of the
Covenant? No, by God! The violators are trampling upon their
own dignity, are uprooting their own foundations and are proud
at being upheld by flatterers who exert a great effort to shake the
faith of feeble souls. But this action of theirs is of no consequence;
it is a mirage and not water, foam and not the sea, mist and not
a cloud, illusion and not reality. All this ye shall soon see.
[209 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p. 210-11.]
Those who are expelled from the Faith as Covenant-breakers are left to their own devices. The believers will never oppose them in their activities and they are left free to continue their actions against the Cause of God. But the history of the Faith demonstrates that by their very opposition to the Centre of the Faith they sow the seeds of their own extinction and after a while fade away ignominiously. Their position is like that of a branch cut off from the tree. At first it is green and appears to have some life, but as it has no root, it will inevitably wither and die.
Severing relationships with Covenant-breakers must not be confused with acts of opposition or hatred towards them. Dr Yunis Khan recounts a story of 'Abdu'l-Bahá which throws light on this subject. The following is a summary translation of a passage from his memoirs:
Sometimes in the course of His talks, 'Abdu'l-Bahá used to explain
that Covenant-breaking exerts an evil influence upon the conduct
and morals of the public. The seed of sedition which the Covenant-breakers
have sown among the people is capable of inclining the
world of humanity towards ungodliness and iniquity. Therefore
the believers must manifest righteousness and divine virtues
in their lives, so as to remove the foul odour of this rebellion
from the world. At the same time they will have to be vigilant and
resourceful lest the Covenant-breakers influence public opinion
because whenever their foul breath reaches a certain area, it
impairs the spiritual nostrils of the people and obscures their
vision. Consequently these people are unable to inhale the sweet
savours of holiness or to behold the effulgence of .the divine
One of the important duties enjoined upon the loved ones of
God is to make every endeavour to prevent the Covenant-breakers
from infiltrating the Bahá'í community.
'Abdu'l-Bahá quoted Bahá'u'lláh as saying that should one who
is a follower of Mirza Yahya be living in a town, the foul odour of
his presence will linger for a long time in that town and the progress
of the Cause of God will be impeded there. The Master gave
the example of the city of Kirman and said that the breath of the
Covenant-breakers [Muhammad-'Ali and his associates], which is
none other than the tempting of Satan,[*] is far more deadly than
that of the followers of Mirza Yahya...
[* According to the Bahá'í teachings, there is no such being as Satan. Satan is a human being who is led by his ego to live a life of wickedness and ungodliness. Shoghi Effendi's secretary states on his behalf that 'devil or Satan is symbolic of evil and dark forces yielding to temptation' (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 2 November 1938).]
One day when this servant and two other friends were in
'Abdu'l-Bahá's presence, He was talking in the same vein about
Covenant-breakers... At one point I remembered an incident
which happened in Tihran and in order to support His arguments,
I said: 'A new school has recently been opened in Tihran and
Hubbu'llah, a son of the notorious Jamal-i-Burujirdi [father
and son were both Covenant-breakers], was being considered for
employment as a teacher. As soon as we heard this, the Hands of
the Cause, two other friends and myself consulted together in a
meeting and agreed to do everything in our power to prevent the
appointment of Hubbu'llah to this post. We sent a certain individual
to persuade the school authorities not to appoint him...'
I had not yet finished my sentence when 'Abdu'l-Bahá interrupted
me and instead of praising our action, said: 'Do you mean
to say that you consulted together and decided to stop a Covenant-breaker
earning a living? This is not the way to serve the Cause
of God. In matters connected with one's livelihood there should
be no differentiation between a believer and a Covenant-breaker.
The loved ones of the Abha Beauty must be the signs of the bounty
of God among the people. They should, like the sun, illumine the
world, and like the clouds of the spring season rain down upon
everything. They must not look upon the capacity and worthiness
of the individual'... 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke in this vein to us for some
time and I hung my head in shame!
[210 Yunis Khan, Khatirat-i-Nuh-i-Salih, pp. 357-8.]
In many of their Tablets Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá exhorted the believers to show the utmost kindness to all, including their enemies, and to pray for them.
Whereas association with the peoples of the world is enjoined on the Bahá'ís, the Covenant-breakers are a legitimate exception. They are cast out of the community and shunned by the believers but to hate, oppose or confront them is against the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. The story of Dr Yunis Khan told above demonstrates that Bahá'ís are forbidden to take any measures designed to harm the Covenant-breakers or obstruct their personal work and activities. On the contrary, knowing that these people are misguided and ignorant of the truth, the believers should overlook and forgive their transgressions. Following in the footsteps of the Master, they are encouraged to feel the utmost compassion towards them in their hearts, for they are aware that unless these misguided souls change their ways, their plight will be disastrous and their end perilous. Since the Bahá'ís do not associate with Covenant-breakers, the only way they can help them is to pray that they may be guided to the pathway of truth. Indeed, a number of Covenant-breakers have recognized their folly, repented to the Centre of the Cause, been forgiven and have been welcomed back into the Bahá'í community. The prayer revealed in the Will and Testament and quoted in this chapter, in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá begs forgiveness for the Covenant-breakers who had inflicted untold sufferings upon Him for many years, demonstrates that although the Bahá'ís shun these sick souls, they do not bear antagonism or hatred towards them in their hearts.
It is helpful at this juncture to clarify the difference between Covenant-breakers and those who withdraw from the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. There are always a small number of individuals who recognize Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God, embrace His Faith and even become active members of the community but later, for some reason, change their minds and withdraw from the Faith. Such individuals are not Covenant-breakers. The Bahá'ís will maintain friendly relationships with such people and respect their decision to withdraw their membership in the Faith. Bahá'u'lláh has enjoined upon His followers to associate with them in a spirit of love and fellowship.
There is another category of believers who become deprived of their administrative rights by the sanction, at the present time, of the National Spiritual Assemblies. This happens when an individual flagrantly breaks certain laws of Bahá'u'lláh which are related to social or administrative activities and by so doing brings disgrace upon the Faith. Although not Bahá'ís in good standing, these people are nevertheless part of the community and may, under certain conditions, regain their administrative rights.
'Abdu'l-Bahá described Covenant-breaking as a contagious disease and therefore counselled the believers, for the sake of their own salvation and for the unity of the community, to sever their relationships with Covenant-breakers and to have no personal contact with them. The believers are also strongly discouraged from reading their propaganda, for their words can inject poison into the mind. When Mirza Muhammad-'Ali distributed his false propaganda against the Centre of the Covenant, the recipients in Persia who were loyal to the Faith used to return his communications to him sealed and unread. This is still a wise precaution today.
By their fidelity, courage and faith the believers during the ministries of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi rallied around the Centre of the Cause, guarded the stronghold of the Faith, protected it from the onslaught of the Covenant-breakers and prevented them from spreading their venom among the believers. Thus they passed on to later generations a worldwide community whose unity is firmly established and the invincibility of whose rising institutions is fully demonstrated.