Hands of the Cause of God
Since the inception of the Faith, the commandment to teach the Cause and proclaim the message of Bahá'u'lláh to the human race has been the cornerstone of the teachings and ordinances of the Cause of God. Bahá'u'lláh has enjoined every believer to teach His Faith, calling this act 'the most meritorious of all deeds '. In Persia the friends carried out this vital duty in a spirit of unity and teamwork, with each person playing his part according to his ability. Not everyone was capable of speaking about religion and, in the absence of priests, the actual work of teaching, adducing proofs and confirming people was usually left to those who had the gift of knowledge and an understanding of religious subjects. Localities usually had a few knowledgeable believers, each known as muballigh (teacher). These souls were available to discuss the Faith in private meetings with people who had been contacted by individual Bahá'ís.
[265 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 278.]
Often, teaching the Cause was carried out as team work. Many searched for receptive souls, attracted them to the Cause through prayer and perseverance and eventually prepared them to attend a meeting in which a muballigh would speak to them about the Faith. Others would offer their homes for such meetings and some rendered other services to make these meetings possible.
These teachers of the Cause usually had a deep understanding of the Faith and were well versed in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and in the holy books of the past. Most of them were learned people but there were some very successful teachers who were illiterate or had very little education. While to be knowledgeable is a great advantage, teaching the Cause is not dependent upon academic knowledge. Rather, a teacher must have faith and be detached from earthly things.
The outstanding qualities possessed by most teachers of the Cause in those days were a deep understanding of the Faith, whether they were educated or not, and a passionate love for Bahá'u'lláh, which made them radiant souls. In the absence of any institutions of the Faith such as local and national spiritual assemblies in the days of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, a muballigh would play a significant part in deepening the friends in the knowledge of the Faith and would encourage and help them to discharge their duties in the field of teaching.
As far back as 1881, Bahá'u'lláh in one of His Tablets directed Ibn-i-Asdaq, in consultation with Mulla 'Akbar-i-Shahmirzadi[*] and another believer, to make arrangements for the appointment in every locality in Persia of a suitable resident Bahá'í teacher. He placed great emphasis on this matter and regarded it as supremely important. From the very early days, too, Bahá'u'lláh Himself directed a few outstanding and knowledgeable souls to travel continually throughout Persia and the neighbouring countries in the capacity of muballigh to teach the Faith in different towns and villages. Their main task was to speak to interested people in private meetings that were usually organized by local believers. These travelling teachers rendered an invaluable service: through their devotion, their knowledge, their spirituality and radiance they succeeded in helping the believers in their teaching work and brought a great many souls under the shadow of the Cause of God. This practice continued during the ministries of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. When the national institutions of the Faith were established in Persia, one of their important obligations was to ensure that in every locality there were some individuals who could function in the capacity of a muballigh.
[266 Unpublished compilation, Iran National Bahá'í Archives, no. 27, p. 281.]
[* Both were, some years later, appointed by Bahá'u'lláh as Hands of the Cause.]
Running parallel to the duty of teaching the Faith is the task of conducting the affairs of the community through the process of consultation, as ordained by Bahá'u'lláh in His teachings. Before the establishment of the institutions of the Faith, important decisions, whether concerned with the local community or an individual, were often made through consultation among a few teachers of the Faith and other older and experienced Bahá'ís. As we have already stated, the practice of naming certain individuals as muballigh continued during the ministries of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. When the local spiritual assemblies were constituted in Persia during the ministry of the Guardian, he advised that the spiritual assembly in its decision-making process pay special attention to the views of the muballigh in the area and try to act on his advice.
The appointment of the muballigh seems to have been a prelude to Bahá'u'lláh's appointment of the Hands of the Cause, whose functions were elaborated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The body of the Hands was later institutionalized during the ministry of the Guardian.
During the last few years of His life Bahá'u'lláh chose four of His devoted followers and designated them Hands of the Cause of God. They were Haji Mulla 'Ali-Akbar-i-Shahmiradi, known as Haji Akhund; Mirza Muhammad-Taqi, known as Ibn-i-Abhar; Mirza 'Ali-Muhammad, known as Ibn-i-Asdaq; and Haji Mirza Hasan, surnamed Adib. These appointments, so far as we know, did not take place at one time. Their names were not announced to the community, nor were their functions outlined in one special Tablet. With the exception of Mirza Hasan-i-Adib, who embraced the Faith about three years before the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, the other three Hands of the Cause were long-standing believers. They were the recipients of many Tablets in which, over the years, He showered upon them His blessings, guided their steps, praised their work and exalted their station in glowing terms. In these Tablets He often referred to them as 'the Chosen Ones', 'the loved ones', 'the detached souls', 'the pure in spirit' and other similar designations.
Towards the end of His life Bahá'u'lláh revealed a Tablet to each of these four individuals, designating them 'Hands of the Cause of God'. As far as we can gather, the first time Bahá'u'lláh used the term 'Hand of the Cause' to refer to an individual with certain responsibilities was in a Tablet revealed in honour of Ibn-i-Asdaq on 19 Rajab 1304 (13 April 1887) and it is possible that the first three Hands of the Cause were appointed around the same time. Certainly there is a Tablet revealed in honour of Ibn-i-Abhar dated 24 Sha'ban 1306 (26 April 1889) which makes it clear that he had already been designated a Hand of the Cause. As yet, no definite date for the appointment of Haji Mirza Hasan-i-Adib has been found. He was the last to be appointed, having become a believer around 1889.
For quite some time the believers did not appreciate the significance of the appellation 'Hand of the Cause' and the implications of designating certain individuals as such. One may think of two reasons for this. First, Bahá'u'lláh had often used the term 'Hands' in earlier Tablets without referring to any particular person; second, there was no apparent change in the activities of these souls after their appointment, since they continued to be engaged in promoting the Cause and assisting the believers in their many activities. For instance, Bahá'u'lláh confirms in a Tablet that from the early days of His arrival in 'Akka He had instructed Mulla 'Akbar to be engaged in the protection of the Cause. Gradually, however, as the years went by, the friends began to understand the functions and duties of the Hands of the Cause — particularly during the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, when He directed them to carry out certain duties as a body.
In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá defines the duties of the Hands of the Cause in these words:
21-WT The obligations of the Hands of the Cause of God are
to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to
promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be,
at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached
from earthly things. They must manifest the fear of God by their
conduct, their manners, their deeds and their words.
To appreciate the function of the Hands of the Cause, it is helpful to examine some basic principles of life and creation. In a Tablet revealed in honour of His Trustee, Haji Abu'l-Hasan-Amin, Bahá'u'lláh states that movement is caused by heat, and heat by the Word of God.[*] This is a profound statement, the first part of which is proved by science, the second taught by religion. Thus the pronouncement is not only valid physically but has deep spiritual significance, as religious enthusiasm and fervour are generated by the warmth of one's heart.
[267 Bahá'u'lláh, Iqtidarat, p. 249.]
[* For more information on this topic see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 4, pp. 42-3.]
As in nature, when heat causes movement, so in spiritual life when the heart is warmed by the fire of the love of God the believer moves to action and arises to serve the Cause. In other words, when the love of Bahá'u'lláh enters the heart of a believer he will feel exhilarated and will be motivated to serve Him.
There are two potent factors that can ignite the fire of the love of God in a believer's heart. The first is the power of the Word of God, and the second is the influence that a true believer may, through close association, exert on the heart of another. So powerful is this influence that Bahá'u'lláh states in the Hidden Words:
He that seeketh to commune with God, let him betake himself
to the companionship of His loved ones; and he that desireth to
hearken unto the word of God, let him give ear to the words of His
[268 Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Persian no. 56.]
This passage demonstrates the great contribution that the Hands of the Cause — who were highly exhilarated by the love of their Lord — made in enthusing and arousing the believers, thereby enabling them to draw nearer to Bahá'u'lláh. These devoted souls warmed the hearts of the friends by the fire of faith that burned brightly within them. To commune with these holy souls was to commune with God and to hear their words was to hear the Word of God.
We can see, therefore, the vital role which Bahá'u'lláh entrusted to the Hands of the Cause, who, by virtue of the fire which raged within their hearts, were able to ignite others. Of course this role is not limited to the Hands. Any believer who is aglow with the love of God can impart the fire of his faith to others and the history of the Faith has recorded the names of many immortal teachers of the Cause who have been endowed with this quality.
The four Hands designated by Bahá'u'lláh held consultative meetings and were regarded in the community as occupying a position of spiritual leadership. It could be said that during the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá these four created the nucleus of a sacred institution, since 'Abdu'l-Bahá did not appoint any Hands during His ministry but only named a few outstanding believers posthumously to that station. Of the first four Hands, Ibn-Asdaq lived long enough to serve the Guardian during the opening years of the Formative Age when the institution of the Hands of the Cause was further developed and consolidated to constitute one of the twin arms of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh.
In several of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh pays tribute to the devotion and self-sacrifice of the Hands of the Cause, describes their main functions as the diffusion of the divine fragrances and the protection of His Cause, and prays that they may be assisted by the Almighty to serve His Faith, to guide and enthuse the believers and to be ready at all times to carry out His commandments. In a Tablet to Mulla 'Ali-Akbar Bahá'u'lláh calls on the Hands to help the believers become aware of the laws and principles of the Faith and to exert every effort to carry them out. In a Tablet He states that the Hands of His Cause circle around His Will and do not speak except by His leave. He declares that through them the standards of the oneness of God have been raised among people and the banners of holiness unfurled in all regions. Bahá'u'lláh further testifies that the inmates of the highest Paradise, the denizens of His Kingdom, and beyond them the Tongue of Grandeur, bestow upon them their blessings and salutations.
[269 Unpublished compilation, Iran National Bahá'í Archives, no. 15, p. 385.]
[270 Bahá'u'lláh, Mu'assisy-i-Ayadiy-i-Amru'llah, p. 11.]
In another Tablet Bahá'u'lláh states that God has appointed the Hands of His Cause as guards and custodians of the stronghold of His Faith to protect it from the onslaught of the unfaithful and the ignorant. He describes the Hands of the Cause as the lamps of guidance who stand guard at the entrance of His mighty edifice and prevent the ungodly from entering it. In several of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh has revealed short prayers for the Hands of His Cause. One is found in the Lawh-i-Dunya and has been translated into English:
[271 ibid. p. 12. (Bahá'u'lláh, Mu'assisy-i-Ayadiy-i-Amru'llah.)]
Light and glory, greeting and praise be upon the Hands of His
Cause, through whom the light of fortitude hath shone forth and
the truth hath been established that the authority to choose rests
with God, the Powerful, the Mighty, the Unconstrained, through
whom the ocean of bounty hath surged and the fragrance of the
gracious favours of God, the Lord of mankind, hath been diffused.
We beseech Him — exalted is He — to shield them through the
power of His hosts, to protect them through the potency of His
dominion and to aid them through His indomitable strength which
prevaileth over all created things. Sovereignty is God's, the Creator
of the heavens and the Lord of the Kingdom of Names.
[272 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p. 83.]
These statements extolling the station of the Hands of the Cause and delineating their functions should not give rise to the erroneous view that the institution of the Hands, followed by that of the Counsellors appointed by the Universal House of Justice to carry on the main duties of the Hands in the future, is any kind of priesthood. The fact that Bahá'u'lláh has abolished priesthood is ample testimony that this is not the case and the following statement by the Universal House of Justice clarifies this point:
It should be apparent to the friends that, as Bahá'u'lláh Himself
both abolished the priesthood and instituted the body of the Hands
of the Cause, the Hands cannot be confused with a priesthood.
There are basic differences between a priesthood and Bahá'í
institutions, such as the Hands of the Cause and the Continental
Boards of Counsellors. A priesthood is usually a profession, has
sacramental functions and confers upon the individual occupant
of the ecclesiastical office jurisdiction over the believers. In the
Bahá'í Faith, there is no profession in any of its institutions, there
are no sacraments and no individual has a sacramental function.
Jurisdiction over communities and individuals is not vested in
individuals. Even in the matter of teaching, the friends must realize
that although a Hand of the Cause or a member of the Continental
Board of Counsellors or indeed any other believer may be deeply
learned in the Teachings so that one naturally gives weight to his
exposition of them, no one, apart from the Master and the Guardian,
is authorized to interpret the Sacred Writings.
[273 From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 19 May 1969.]
During His lifetime Bahá'u'lláh directed the Hands to consult among themselves and with other believers on issues vital to the growth and development of the Bahá'í community. At a certain point in His ministry it seems that Bahá'u'lláh, wishing to emphasize the importance of consultation in resolving various issues, deliberately declined to give guidance when asked for it and instead urged the questioner to consult on the subject. For instance, Hand of the Cause Ibn-i-Abhar once sought guidance from Bahá'u'lláh as to where he should reside in Persia. The answer was that first he ought to consult with some souls who were well-assured and steadfast in the Faith and then act upon their advice.
It is apparent from these details that consultative meetings usually involved the Hands and different individuals they invited to take part, with discussions mainly centring on topics such as the propagation of the Faith and its protection. Such meetings were held long before the establishment of local and national spiritual assemblies. In fact, the consultative meetings of the first Hands evolved into the Spiritual Assembly of Tihran, the first Assembly in the Bahá'í world.
Indeed, when in 1899 'Abdu'l-Bahá instructed the Hands of the Cause to establish the first elected Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Tihran, the details were left to the Hands. Unlike the present system, in which the whole Bahá'í community in a town takes part in the election of the Spiritual Assembly, the Hands invited a number of well-known Bahá'ís of Tihran to be the electors. These members of the community elected the Assembly members by secret ballot. The Hands were themselves permanent members who actually issued credential papers for all elected members and invited them to serve on the Assembly.
The four Hands appointed by Bahá'u'lláh exerted their utmost in serving their Lord. Through their supreme devotion to the Cause, their unswerving loyalty to the Covenant and their untiring labours in the promotion of the interests of the Faith, they left the legacy of their magnificent example for generations yet unborn to emulate throughout this Dispensation.