Tests of Faith
One of the common features of the ministries of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá is that during their lifetimes neither of them identified their successors to the believers in general. In many of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh extolled the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and praised His outstanding qualities. But at no time during His ministry did Bahá'u'lláh disclose to His followers the position of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as His successor and the Centre of His Covenant. He kept this a well-guarded secret and did not intimate to His followers in general that 'Abdu'l-Bahá would be administering the affairs of the Cause after Him. The same is true of 'Abdu'l-Bahá; he did not disclose the identity of Shoghi Effendi to the believers. In the case of Bahá'u'lláh, the only two references in His writings on the question of successorship are found in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. In these passages He alludes in meaningful, profound and eloquent language to the one who will become the Centre of the Cause after Him but He does not explicitly mention His successor's name, only indicating that He has issued from Him.
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.
[40 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, para. 121.]
When the Mystic Dove will have winged its flight from its Sanctuary
of Praise and sought its far-off goal, its hidden habitation, refer ye
whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath
branched from this mighty Stock.
[41 ibid. para. 174. (Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas.)]
It is known that 'Ali-Muhammad Varqa, the renowned Apostle of Bahá'u'lláh, asked Him about the identity of the person alluded to in the above verses. In a Tablet addressed to Varqa Bahá'u'lláh indicated that the intended person was the Most Great Branch and after Him the Greater Branch. However, this disclosure was not shared with the Bahá'í community.
[42 Quoted by Fadil-i-Yazdi in his Manahiju'l-Ahkam, vol. 2, p. 657.]
The passages cited above were revealed in the Kitab-i-Aqdas 19 years before the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh. During the intervening years, no one who read them had any doubt as to the identity of the one Whom God had purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient
Root'. It was obvious to all, especially to every member of Bahá'u'lláh's family, that this was a reference to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and no one else.
The only document that explicitly announced 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh and the one to whom all must turn after His ascension was the Kitab-i-'Ahd (The Book of the Covenant), which was published among the believers only after Bahá'u'lláh's passing. This historic document was probably written at least one year before His ascension, for it is alluded to in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf as the 'Crimson Book'. Bahá'u'lláh kept His Will and Testament secret, retained it in His own possession and did not share its contents with anyone during His lifetime. But there is evidence to suggest that He had intimated its contents to 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Bahá'u'lláh entrusted the Kitab-i-'Ahd to 'Abdu'l-Bahá during His last illness before His ascension and informed the members of His family a few days before He departed from this world that in a document entrusted by Him to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, He had commended them all to His care. The first time the Kitab-i-'Ahd was read aloud in the presence of a number of friends was on the ninth day after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, and soon afterwards its text was released to the believers.
Immediately after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh the Covenant was violated and opposition to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Centre of the Covenant, began.
Those who are unfamiliar with the history and origins of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh, or who have a superficial understanding of His Faith, may find it strange that while Bahá'u'lláh explained every subject to His followers and clarified their every question, He did not specifically name His successor during His lifetime. It is customary, and indeed essential, for a monarch to nominate his heir to the throne before his death. In this way his subjects will have every opportunity to become familiar with their future head of state and orient themselves towards him. What prevented Bahá'u'lláh from doing this? Could He not have announced to the entire Bahá'í community during His own days the appointment of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Centre of His Covenant? Looking at it from a purely human point of view, it appears that had Bahá'u'lláh made such an appointment during His lifetime, all the differences that arose after His ascension could have been avoided. He, as the Manifestation of God, had the wisdom and authority to settle every misunderstanding, to suppress any opposition, to establish the position of 'Abdu'l-Bahá on a firm foundation in the minds and hearts of the believers, and to ensure the loyal support of His successor by all the members of His family.
But Bahá'u'lláh did none of these things. He did not disclose the identity of the person who was to succeed Him but kept it a well-guarded secret, to be divulged only after His passing. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also did the same thing in relation to His successor. He did not reveal the identity of Shoghi Effendi as Guardian of the Cause of God during His own lifetime. That also was a well-guarded secret, disclosed only when His Will and Testament was read. It is true that 'Abdu'l-Bahá intimated the identity of His successor to one or two individuals but the generality of the Bahá'í community remained unaware of it. The person who was privy to this appointment was the Greatest Holy Leaf. Another person was a non-Bahá'í woman, Dr J. Fallscheer, a German physician who lived in Haifa and attended the ladies of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's household. When Shoghi Effendi was a child, 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly stated to her that Shoghi Effendi would be His successor. But this information was not communicated to anybody else. In answer to a question from three believers as to whether there would be someone to succeed Him, 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote a short reply:
...Know verily that this is a well-guarded secret. It is even as a
gem concealed within its shell. That it will be revealed is predestined.
The time will come when its light will appear, when its
evidences will be made manifest, and its secrets unravelled.
[43 'Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Rabbani, Priceless Pearl, p. 1.]
Another believer enquired about a verse in Isaiah (11:6), 'a little child shall lead them', wanting to know whether this was true and whether the child who would succeed 'Abdu'l-Bahá was then living. In response 'Abdu'l-Bahá revealed the following Tablet:
O Maidservant of God!
Verily, that child is born and is alive and from him will appear
wondrous things that thou wilt hear of in the future. Thou shalt
behold him endowed with the most perfect appearance, supreme
capacity, absolute perfection, consummate power and unsurpassed
might. His face will shine with a radiance that illumines all the
horizons of the world; therefore forget this not as long as thou dost
live inasmuch as ages and centuries will bear traces of him.
Upon thee be greetings and praise
[44 ibid. p. 2. ('Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Rabbani, Priceless Pearl.)]
However, in this Tablet 'Abdu'l-Bahá did not reveal the identity of Shoghi Effendi as that child who would succeed Him.
That the successors of the Centre of the Covenant and of Shoghi Effendi were disclosed only after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh and of 'Abdu'l-Bahá constitutes one of the most important features of the Covenant. Not until one grasps the purpose and significance of such
steps, whether in the appointment of 'Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi, will the believer be able to acquire a true comprehension of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh.
Although such an understanding must come about primarily through the individual's meditations upon the holy writings, his study of the history, genesis and workings of the Covenant and his prayers that his heart may become the recipient of divine knowledge, the following explanation may throw some light on this important subject.
The main function of the Manifestation of God is to reveal the teachings of God for the age in which He appears. In so doing, He is ready to explain to His followers the meaning and purpose of His Revelation and to answer any difficult questions for them. Both in His association with the believers and in His Tablets, Bahá'u'lláh was always ready to explain the significance of His writings. Many of His Tablets were revealed in response to questions asked by His followers and others on weighty religious and spiritual matters as well as minor problems that affected the lives and activities of the friends. To all these questions Bahá'u'lláh responded. He expounded His teachings; He interpreted the Scriptures of the past, clarifying many of their abstruse passages and statements; He revealed the mysteries surrounding some of His profound utterances; and He delineated the features of His New World Order, giving details of the application of His laws and ordinances, and explaining, in simple terms, the verities of His Faith.
On one subject, however, Bahá'u'lláh remained silent: designating the person who was to succeed Him. There are many wisdoms in this. Let us use the analogy of the teacher, whose duty is to impart knowledge to his pupils and help them in their work. In so doing, he is always ready to explain the various subjects to his pupils and answer their questions but on one occasion he must remain silent and refrain from helping them or answering their questions. On the examination day the students are left on their own and must find the answers by themselves. Those who pass the examination are elevated to a higher class and those who fail are not.
The history of the Faith demonstrates that the Covenant has always provided great tests for the believers. The Bab-gave the glad-tidings of the coming of 'Him Whom God shall make manifest' but did not specifically reveal His identity. Bahá'u'lláh kept the appointment of 'Abdu'l-Bahá a secret, and so in the terms of the above analogy the Kitab-i-'Ahd became the believers' examination paper. The winds of tests began to blow immediately once the contents of that historic document were published, engulfing the community of the Most Great Name in a tempest of unprecedented severity. Many unfaithful and ambitious souls broke the Covenant and arose with all their might to
wrest the leadership of the Cause from the hands of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, persisting in their ignoble activities for years until, by their own deeds, they brought about their own extinction. Those who were faithful to the Covenant, however, were elevated to greater heights of faith and devotion.
Tests[*] associated with so mighty an institution as the Covenant are inevitable and constitute an integral and enduring feature of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh. Similar tests appeared when the contents of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá were made public. Some ambitious people, among them most of the members of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's own family who sought leadership and proved to be insincere in their faith, broke the Covenant and rose up against Shoghi Effendi. Here again, the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá became an examination paper for the believers.
[*For further discussion of tests in this life see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 3, and Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 364-5.]
After the passing of Shoghi Effendi, too, the winds of tests blew and some misguided and egotistical personalities broke away and were cast out of the community of the Most Great Name. This time the non-existence of a will and testament by Shoghi Effendi became the examination paper.
The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh will continue to be a testing ground for the followers of Bahá'u'lláh. Those few who may succumb to the dictates of their own selfish desires and arise in opposition to the divinely ordained institutions of the Faith will cut themselves off from the tree of the Cause of God and will wither and perish in time. Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is that although many of its outstanding followers rebelled against the Covenant and tried with all their might to undermine its foundations, they did not succeed in creating schisms and breaking the unity of the community.
While a small minority failed in the tests provided by the institution of the Covenant, the majority of Bahá'u'lláh's followers who were loyal to the Covenant became inspired by the Kitab-i-'Ahd and, at a later epoch, by the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. They enthusiastically rallied around the Centre of the Cause and devotedly endeavoured to carry out provisions embodied in these two great documents. So important to the faith of the believer are the contents of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá that Shoghi Effendi has made their observance an article of faith for a true believer who, among other things, must adhere to 'every clause of our Beloved's sacred Will' with loyalty and steadfastness.
[45 Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, p. 90.]
The degree of a believer's adherence to every clause of the Master's Will and Testament determines the measure of his faith. There are
those who obey wholeheartedly the provisions of this sacred document and will not deviate a hair's breath from them though there may be a number of aspects which they do not fully understand. Others, while ready to follow some of the directives of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, may have some reservations about certain statements in the Will and Testament that they cannot accept. Such believers experience doubts in their faith but, if sincere, may be able to dispel them through reading the writings, discussion with deepened Bahá'ís and prayer. Others persist in their doubts and hold views contrary to the teachings of the Faith but cannot, for various reasons, resolve their misunderstandings and strengthen their faith. Such people may remain members of the Bahá'í community provided they keep their opinions strictly to themselves and do not propagate their misgivings to others.
Finally, there are those who, while confessing belief in Bahá'u'lláh, do not accept the provisions of His Covenant and rise against 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice. Or they may acknowledge Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá but actively oppose Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice. Such people are acting against the Covenant and, after adequate counsels and warnings, may be declared Covenant-breakers.
One of the main factors that turns a believer into a Covenant-breaker is ambition to become prominent in the community, to rise to a high station within the Faith. This is the common objective of most Covenant-breakers. Such individuals have not realized that the only station God has destined for man is that of servitude — to God and to his fellow-man. Bahá'u'lláh has abolished the priesthood and has given no one authority to rule over others. There are no individual leaders in the Bahá'í community and the Faith does not harbour egotistical personalities. Of course, there are learned Bahá'ís, outstanding teachers, administrators and pioneers, but none of these people, however eminent, can exert authority over the community. Their greatness is in their humility, servitude and self-effacement. Those who have rebelled against the Covenant have not understood or paid attention to this principle, which is the cornerstone of the Covenant of God with man.
We may understand the reality of Covenant-breaking by looking into one of the laws of nature. In this life, opposites attract each other like the poles of a magnet, while similar poles repulse each other. God and man may be said to be positioned on the two opposite poles. God is the sovereign Lord of all and man a humble servant, hence there is a force of attraction between the two. 'I loved thy creation, hence I created thee', is the voice of God addressing His servants. While God is the possessor of all divine attributes, by reason of His sovereignty, He cannot be humble. The best gift, then, which
man can offer to God is the only one He does not already possess, namely, humility and servitude. These are the most befitting attributes for man. The lordship of God and the servitude of man are opposites bound together by the force of love. On the other hand, in the analogy of the magnet, similar poles repel each other. Therefore, should an individual, having recognized a Manifestation of God, aspire to reach His station or attempt to appear equal to Him, such an act will provoke the wrath of God and there will be a force of repulsion between the two parties. This is Covenant-breaking.
[46 Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic no. 4.]
In the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, whose main theme is the Covenant, Bahá'u'lláh confirms that should man desire to rise to that level which is beyond him and is solely ordained for God's Chosen Ones, he will be cast out from the realms on high. These are His words:
[47 The full text of this Tablet, with an explanation of its significance, is given in Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 1, chapter 14.]
They have desired to ascend unto that state which the Lord hath
ordained to be above their stations...
Whereupon the burning meteor cast them out from them that
abide in the Kingdom of His Presence...
And they heard the Voice of Grandeur raised from behind the
unseen pavilion upon the Height of Glory...
'O guardian angels! Return them to their abode in the world
'Inasmuch as they have purposed to rise to that sphere which
the wings of the celestial dove have never attained...
[48 Bahá'u'lláh, in Bahá'í Prayers, pp. 223-4.]
Through his actions Mirza Yahya proved to be the fulfilment of these words, for he longed to take the place of Bahá'u'lláh and, indeed, when formally apprised in Adrianople of Bahá'u'lláh's claim, made his counter-claim and declared himself to be the bearer of a new revelation.
Mirza Muhammad-'Ali was the same. He knew the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Centre of the Covenant, the One to whom all believers must turn. Yet he wanted to be a partner with Him. The fact that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali rose up with all his power to oppose 'Abdu'l-Bahá is a clear sign that he considered himself equal to the Master.
A child will never challenge a giant to a fight because he knows that he is no match for the giant. But a man who chooses to fight with another must believe that he possesses at least the same strength as his opponent; the act of opposition by one party indicates that it considers itself to be on a par with the other. By their very act of opposition, all those who become Covenant-breakers seek to bring themselves to the same level as the Centre of the Covenant and to challenge His authority. Consequently, as in the analogy of the poles
of the magnet, they are rejected and are cast out from the community of the Most Great Name.
In His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh has stated that since His Revelation is unimaginably glorious and the spiritual forces to which it has given birth are immensely powerful, so will be the severity of the tests it provides for those who follow Him. In a Tablet known as the Lawh-i-Fitnih (Tablet of Tests) revealed in honour of Princess Shams-i-Jihan, Bahá'u'lláh states that through His Revelation all creation will be tried. He affirms that every atom, every created being, every accomplished man of learning, the servants of God and His sincere lovers, the angels that enjoy near access to God, the Concourse on high, every righteous man of discernment, every mature embodiment of wisdom, every prophet sent forth by God — all will be tested.
The history of the Faith amply demonstrates this. There were some disciples of Bahá'u'lláh whose faith and devotion had carried them to great heights. They were very close to His person and had become renowned among the believers. Yet because of their pride and ambition, when the winds of tests blew, the flame of faith was extinguished in their hearts. As a result, they fell from grace and died spiritually.
The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, through the instrumentality of the Kitab-i-'Ahd and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, provides the means by which every believer is tested. There is a tradition in Islam quoted by Shoghi Effendi in his Persian writings which sets forth the difficulties and perils encountered by man on his journey to God. It describes how all men will perish and die except the believers; all the believers will perish and die except those who are tested, all who are tested will perish and die except those who are sincere, and those who are sincere will be in great danger.
The tests to which the believers are subjected are not all related to Covenant-breaking. Indeed, tests are an integral part of life. Even in the physical world there are tests: for example, where there is movement there is also resistance, and the faster one moves, the greater the resistance. Therefore a fast-moving object meets enormous resistance from the air because of its sheer speed. This is true in the human world too. Depending on the individual and his circumstances, tests present themselves in different forms. Those whose outlook is predominantly materialistic experience tests that disturb their lives, creating pain and suffering. This form of tests is described in the Qur'an in these words:
Surely We will try you with something of fear and hunger, and
diminution of goods and lives and fruits... (Qur'an 2:155)
But tests become much more purposeful when the individual recognizes the Manifestation of God and enters under the shadow of His Cause. Again in the Qur'an we read:
Do men think that when they say 'we believe' they shall be left
alone and not be put to proof? (Qur'an 29:2)
In this day, because of the greatness of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, when a person embraces the Faith, his tests are far greater than in former Dispensations and he is tested in many ways, often without realizing it. Each time he is successful in passing a test, he will acquire greater spiritual insight and grow stronger in faith. He will then come closer to God and will be elevated to a higher level of service; the next time his tests will be more difficult. We are not always able to pass a test but God in His mercy will provide other opportunities for us to overcome the barriers. However, if through attachment to this world the ego dominates, tests will weaken one's faith, even causing one to lose it altogether.
To cite an example, the meeting of a Spiritual Assembly may be regarded as the greatest testing ground for its members. The standards, which according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá the members must uphold during their consultation, are high indeed. He calls them to 'purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God ... humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties... He further exhorts them to conduct their discussion in a spirit of love and harmony, of courtesy and dignity, care and moderation. These are some of the prime requisites of Bahá'í consultation.
[49 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p. 87.]
The application of these spiritual standards makes Bahá'í consultation a testing ground for every member of the Assembly. All the virtues of the individual — his faith, his courage and his steadfastness in the Covenant — undergo a rigorous test as the members sit around the table to consult. Here the spiritual battle within the soul of the individual begins and will continue as long as the ego is the dictator. Indeed, in many cases this battle lasts a lifetime. In this battlefield the forces of light and darkness are arrayed against each other. On the one side stands the spiritual entity, the soul of the believer; on the other, a great enemy, the self or ego. Whenever the soul hearkens to the lofty standards set by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and applies them during consultation, the ego, defeated, recedes into the background. The soul emerges victorious in this battle and becomes radiant with the light of faith and detachment. The application of these spiritual principles, however, must be genuine and not merely superficial. The feelings of love, unity, detachment and harmony must come from the heart. Humility and servitude,
radiance, devotion, courtesy and patience, along with all the other virtues, are qualities of the spirit. These cannot be manifested by paying lip service to them. If this is the case, then the ego is the victor. The best protection for the believer is steadfastness in the Covenant, which, in simple language, means obedience to Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and, today, the Universal House of Justice. This is a matter of faith and every Bahá'í who has recognized Bahá'u'lláh as the Supreme Manifestation of God has already accepted this cardinal principle of the Cause.
There are many teachings or principles in the Faith with which a person may agree. The faith of a believer is tested, however, when he comes across a statement that is contrary to his way of thinking. In this instance, the degree of an individual's steadfastness in the Covenant is determined by the ready manner in which he or she sincerely acknowledges that Bahá'u'lláh and those upon whom He has conferred infallibility are divinely guided, that their words, their teachings and their guidance are free from error and that the mind of man is finite and his judgement often erroneous.