The Chief Stewards, the Custodians
Shoghi Effendi passed away in the sixty-first year of his life on 4 November 1957, in London, half way through the Ten Year Crusade. His death, caused by a sudden heart attack in his sleep following Asian flu, came as a cruel blow to the Bahá'ís of the world and was yet another test of their steadfastness in the Covenant. This unexpected tragedy plunged the Bahá'í world into a state of utter grief and sorrow and shook the community of the Most Great Name to its foundations. The news flashed around the world in the following cable:
Shoghi Effendi beloved of all hearts sacred trust given believers
by Master passed away sudden heart attack in sleep following
Asiatic flu. Urge believers remain steadfast cling institution Hands
lovingly reared recently reinforced emphasized by beloved Guardian.
Only oneness heart oneness purpose can befittingly testify
loyalty all National Assemblies believers departed Guardian who
sacrificed self utterly for service Faith.
[299 Rabbani, Priceless Pearl, p. 447.]
Later, the news of the funeral was cabled to the Bahá'í world:
Beloved all hearts precious Guardian Cause God passed peacefully
away yesterday after Asiatic flu. Appeal Hands National Assemblies
Auxiliary Boards shelter believers assist meet heartrending supreme
test. Funeral our beloved Guardian Saturday London Hands
Assembly Board members invited attend any press release should
state meeting Hands shortly Haifa will make announcement to
Bahá'í world regarding future plans. Urge hold memorial meetings
[300 ibid. (Rabbani, Priceless Pearl, p. 447.)]
These two cables were sent to the Bahá'í communities from the city of Haifa, based on a decision that all communications to the Bahá'í world should be issued from its World Centre.
The information that the Hands of the Cause were to meet in Haifa to 'arrange future plans' was welcomed by the Bahá'ís because the Hands had been appointed by the Guardian for the protection and propagation of the Faith and were its highest dignitaries. There were
27 Hands living when Shoghi Effendi passed away and nobody was more suited to advise the believers about the future development of the Cause and to consider the question of a successor to Shoghi Effendi. Almost the entire Bahá'í community expected that the will and testament of Shoghi Effendi would announce the appointment of his successor, as the wills of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá had done. For almost a month, the Bahá'ís of the world waited anxiously for news of this matter from the beloved and trusted Hands of the Cause but the news, when it finally came, was that the Guardian had left no will.
It is significant that five months before he passed away, Shoghi Effendi sent a cablegram to the Bahá'í world in which he conferred upon the Hands of the Cause the responsibility of protecting the Bahá'í community. In another message one month before his passing, he referred to the Hands as 'the Chief Stewards of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic World Commonwealth'.[*] These two messages from Shoghi Effendi contained strong indications regarding the future destiny of the Cause and led the Bahá'í community to rally around the Hands after his passing. The first message, quoted in full in chapter 34, was sent on 4 June 1957.
[* See chapter 33.]
Under the guidance and loving care of 'Abdu'l-Bahá the infant Faith of Bahá'u'lláh grew up protected from the onslaught of the Covenant-breakers and acquired greater strength and vitality. The message of Bahá'u'lláh reached the peoples both of the East and the West and, although not fully integrated, small Bahá'í communities sprang up in several countries of the world. Again, measures similar to those taken by Bahá'u'lláh were adopted by 'Abdu'l-Bahá when He appointed Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian to nurture the tender and flourishing Faith, which was still vulnerable to attacks from within and without the community.
During the 36 years of the Guardianship Shoghi Effendi built up the foundations of the institutions of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh, which were to act as channels for the outpouring of the spiritual energies latent in His Revelation. These institutions, which derive their authority from the Kitab-i-Aqdas and from the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá became bastions of protection for the Bahá'ís of the world. When Shoghi Effendi passed away, the Administrative Order was well established. By virtue of these institutions the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh had become impregnable and the body of the believers was united and harmonized. The forces of negation, which had attacked the Faith from within after the ascensions of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá and
which had posed severe threats to its unity, were now impotent to penetrate the mighty stronghold of the Administrative Order that Shoghi Effendi had built up with meticulous care and with so much personal suffering. After the sudden passing of Shoghi Effendi, the Bahá'í community, having learned from the Hands of the Cause that Shoghi Effendi had left no will, was at first shaken and dismayed, but soon it recovered and organised itself to carry on the work without a Guardian. The following are excerpts from the first letter by the Hands of the Cause addressed to the Bahá'ís of the world on this issue:
Nine days had not yet elapsed after the interment of the sacred
remains of our beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, in London,
when the Hands of the Cause, to the number of twenty-six, assembled
at the World Centre of the Faith, in our capacity as 'Chief
Stewards of the embryonic World Commonwealth of Bahá'u'lláh',
to consult together on the most tragic situation facing the Bahá'ís
since the Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and to take all necessary and
appropriate measures to safeguard the highest interests of our
On November 18th the Hands conducted a Memorial Meeting
at Bahji, in the Haram-i-Aqdas surrounding the most sacred Shrine
in the Bahá'í world, afterward entering the Holy Tomb itself and
prostrating ourselves in utter humility at the Sacred Threshold.
On the following morning, November 19th, nine Hands of the
Cause; selected from the Holy Land, and the several continents
of East and West, with Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, broke the
seals placed upon the beloved Guardian's safe and desk and made
careful examination of their precious contents. These same Hands,
rejoining the other Hands assembled in the Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh
at Bahji, certified that Shoghi Effendi had left no Will and Testament.
It was likewise certified that the beloved Guardian had left
no heir The Aghsan (branches) one and all are either dead or have
been declared violators of the Covenant by the Guardian for their
faithlessness to the Master's Will and Testament and their hostility
to him named first Guardian in that sacred document.
The first effect of the realization that no successor to Shoghi
Effendi could have been appointed by him was to plunge the
Hands of the Cause into the very abyss of despair. What must
happen to the world community of his devoted followers if the
Leader, the Inspirer, the Planner of all Bahá'í activities in all
countries and islands of the seas could no longer fulfil his unique
From this dark abyss, however, contemplation of the Guardian's
own life of complete sacrifice and his peerless services gradually
redeemed our anguished hearts. Shoghi Effendi himself, we know,
would have been the first to remind the Hands, and the widespread
body of the believers, that the Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh
has quickened those powers and resources of faith within mankind
which will achieve the unity of the peoples and the triumph of His
World Order. In this new light of understanding the company of
the Hands could perceive with heightened gratitude the existence
of those innumerable blessings which Shoghi Effendi had created
and left as his true legacy to all Bahá'ís.
Has not the World Centre, with its sacred Shrines and institutions,
been firmly established? Has not the Message been established
in 254 countries and dependencies? Have not the National
and Regional Spiritual Assemblies, forerunners of the Universal
House of Justice, been implanted in twenty-six great areas of all
continents? Has not the Guardian left us not only his incomparable
translations, for English-reading Bahá'ís, of the Bahá'í sacred
literature but also his own master works of interpretation which
disclose to us the unshatterable edifice of an evolving Bahá'í Order
and world community? Has not the Guardian, building upon the
enduring foundation of the Master's Tablets of the Divine Plan,
created the World Crusade to guide our work until 1963?
...Such reflections could but, in such a world-shattering
experience as all Bahá'ís have this month endured, reveal to us
how strongly Shoghi Effendi has laid the foundations of the World
Order of Bahá'u'lláh through the appointment of Hands of the
Cause and likewise the appointment of the International Bahá'í
Council, the institution destined to evolve into the Universal House
In our capacity of Chief Stewards of the embryonic World
Commonwealth of Bahá'u'lláh, we Hands of the Cause have as
constituted a body of nine Hands to serve at the Bahá'í World
Centre. This body of nine Hands will energetically deal with the
protection of the Faith whenever attacks, whether from within or
outside the Bahá'í community, are reported by Hands from their
areas or by National or Regional Assemblies, or whether they arise
within the Holy Land. Correspondence will likewise be maintained
with the Hands of the Cause working in the several continents.
This same body will correspond with National Assemblies on
matters connected with the prosecution of the objectives of the Ten
Year Plan. On matters involving administrative questions this same
body will assist National Assemblies by citing those passages of the
Bahá'í sacred literature which direct the Assemblies to a sound
As to the International Bahá'í Council, appointed by the Guardian
and heralded in his communications to the Bahá'í world, that
body will in the course of time finally fulfil its purpose through the
formation of the Universal House of Justice, that supreme body
upon which infallibility, as the Master's Testament assures us, is
divinely conferred: The source of all good and freed from all
Meanwhile the entire body of the Hands assembled by the nine
Hands of the World Centre will decide when and how the International
Bahá'í Council is to evolve through the successive stages
outlined by the Guardian, culminating in the call to election of the
Universal House of Justice by the membership of all National
When that divinely ordained Body comes into existence, all the
conditions of the Faith can be examined anew and the measures
necessary for its future operation determined in consultation with
the Hands of the Cause.
[301 'Proclamation by the Hands of the Cause to the Bahá'ís of East and West', 25 November 1957, in Bahá'í World, vol. 13, pp. 341-3.]
The believers faithfully rallied around the Hands of the Cause, who now assumed the function of guiding the Bahá'í world. All National Spiritual Assemblies declared their loyalty to the Hands and turned to that institution with devotion. The nine Hands appointed to serve at the World Centre were referred to as 'Custodians of the Faith'. From the outset the Hands made it clear to the Bahá'ís that, unlike the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice, the Hands were not promised infallible guidance. The only way that they could carry out their responsibilities satisfactorily was to follow faithfully the provisions of the Ten Year Plan as delineated by the Guardian. In this way, there was no danger of misguiding the community.
The greatest achievement of the Hands in this period is that they did not deviate a hair's breadth from the teachings and guidance of Shoghi Effendi. For more than five years they held the reins of the Cause in their hands — a period that may be regarded as the most critical stage in the history of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. From the day the Faith was born until the passing of Shoghi Effendi divine protection had been vouchsafed to the community. For 113 years the infant Faith of Bahá'u'lláh had been nurtured by the infallible guidance of its Central Figures and its Guardian. Now it was entrusted to the care of a number of religious leaders, the Hands of the Cause, who did not have this promise of divine guidance.
It was a period fraught with dangers. In the same way that a newly built airplane is subjected to a series of rigorous tests in order to be sure that it works properly, the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh was severely tried during these six years and found to be absolutely impregnable. The custodianship of the Hands was itself a proof of the invincibility of the Covenant, in that, unlike the leaders of former religions who introduced many man-made practices into the teachings of their Prophets, the Hands of the Cause did not add even a single dot to the Cause, nor did they introduce any innovation into the workings of its institutions. They guided the Bahá'í community strictly in accordance with the holy text and the writings of the Guardian. Their responses to questions from National Spiritual Assemblies and individuals were based on the holy writings and if they could not find
the answer in the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh or 'Abdu'l-Bahá or in the letters of Shoghi Effendi they strictly refrained from making any pronouncement. Such questions were left to be determined by the Universal House of Justice in the future.
The Hands acted with such loyalty that when they handed over the Cause of God, pure and unadulterated, to the elected body of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 the whole Bahá'í world acclaimed their devotion. This generation and those yet unborn owe the Hands of the Cause an immeasurable debt of gratitude. Through their faithfulness they took the Ark of the Covenant from the hands of the Guardian, steered it for over five years through treacherous waters, brought it safely to the shores of salvation and humbly delivered it into the hands of the Universal House of Justice.
This period witnessed the emergence of a new brand of Covenant-breakers, headed by Mason Remey, who had himself been appointed a Hand of the Cause of God by Shoghi Effendi and was one of the signatories of the first declaration of the Hands issued after the passing of Shoghi Effendi. In order to appreciate the genesis of this rebellion against the Covenant we must look back at the Bahá'í community as it was then.
At that time there were some believers who thought that the Faith must always have a Guardian. When it became clear that Shoghi Effendi had not appointed a successor, some Bahá'ís failed to appreciate the true significance of Shoghi Effendi's silence in this matter. Because they had not understood the spirit of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, they insisted that a second Guardian must be created. Mason Remey, after a distinguished life of service, succumbed to both ambition and arrogance, which impelled him, without any word of instruction from Shoghi Effendi, to concoct the extraordinarily tortuous argument on which he based his claim to the Guardianship and assumed for himself the responsibility of guiding the Bahá'í world.
In His Will and Testament 'Abdu'l-Bahá extolled Shoghi Effendi as the 'sign of God', the 'chosen branch', the 'blest and sacred bough that hath branched out from the Twin Holy Trees', 'the most wondrous, unique and priceless pearl that doth gleam from out the Twin surging seas'. Such a being was created by God especially to be the Guardian of the Cause and his appointment was made by the Centre of the Covenant Himself. He was a descendant both of Bahá'u'lláh and of the family of the Bab. How could a few individuals who looked for leadership and sought power for their own selfish interests raise up a lesser man to the station of the Guardianship? In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá laid down the conditions that Shoghi Effendi's successor must be either the 'first-born' of the Guardian or
another Ghusn (male descendant of Bahá'u'lláh) and that the Hands of the Cause must give their assent to his choice. How could Mason Remey fulfil these conditions? It is interesting to note that, in a Tablet to the Hand of the Cause of God Mulla 'Ali-Akbar, 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes this important statement:
...for 'Abdu'l-Bahá is in a tempest of dangers and infinitely
abhors differences of opinion...Praise be to God, there are no
grounds for differences.
The Bab, the Exalted One, is the Morn of Truth, the splendour
of Whose light shineth through all regions. He is also the Harbinger
of the Most Great Light, the Abha Luminary. The Blessed
Beauty is the One promised by the sacred books of the past, the
revelation of the Source of light that shone upon Mount Sinai,
Whose fire glowed in the midst of the Burning Bush. We are, one
and all, servants of Their threshold, and stand each as a lowly
keeper at Their door.
My purpose is this, that ere the expiration of a thousand years,
no one has the right to utter a single word, even to claim the
station of Guardianship. The Most Holy Book is the Book to which
all peoples shall refer, and in it the Laws of God have been revealed.
Laws not mentioned in the Book should be referred to the
decision of the Universal House of Justice. There will be no
grounds for difference... Beware, beware lest anyone create a rift
or stir up sedition.
[302 'Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 47.]
After Mason Remey made his absurd claim, the Hands of the Cause in the Holy Land tried their utmost to bring him to his senses. But in his delusion he persisted on his errant course; consequently he and those few who followed him were declared to be Covenant-breakers. The Bahá'í community was once again purged by this process; the impurities that would have imposed dire afflictions upon the Faith, had they been allowed to remain within the fold, were cast out, resulting in the revitalization of the body of the Cause of God.
This episode of Covenant-breaking by Mason Remey was one of the flimsiest of all rebellions in the history of the Faith. It did not take very long before a number of those who had been misled by him realized their mistake, repented and returned to the community or withdrew from the Faith altogether. Mason Remey's efforts to form a following for himself failed miserably. Ultimately, he went so far as to deny the infallibility of Shoghi Effendi and to impute errors to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. After his death, serious rivalries broke out between his lieutenants, who claimed to be his successors. The divinely ordained instruments serving the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh have been so strengthened today that the efforts of this group of Covenant-breakers
have come to naught and the power of the Covenant has driven them into oblivion.
Those few who gathered around Mason Remey — and others who in recent times have taken his place — have tried to justify their rebellion against the Covenant. They misled themselves through their interpretation of the word 'branch' mentioned in the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá regarding a successor to Shoghi Effendi. They claimed that since Bahá'u'lláh referred to human beings as 'the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch', any believer was a branch who could succeed Shoghi Effendi. This assumption was made either through self-deception or ignorance — or perhaps both. The word Ghusn (branch), used by Bahá'u'lláh to refer to His male descendants, is Arabic; the term in the other passage is Persian and is a different word, never used by Bahá'u'lláh to refer to His male descendants. Both, however, have been translated into English as 'branch'.
Before Mason Remey's preposterous claim, the wisdom of the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament that the Hands of the Cause 'must give their assent to the choice of the one whom the guardian of the Cause of God hath chosen as his successor' was not clear to some. But after Remey's defection, it became evident that this requirement was a means for the protection of the Cause of God. Far from assenting to the validity of his appointment as successor to Shoghi Effendi, the Hands were able unanimously to deny it.
Propelled by the forces of the Covenant, during the custodianship of the Hands of the Cause of God the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh advanced to such an extent as to eclipse the victories that had been won in preceding decades. The teaching work in five continents of the globe was intensified as the believers exerted themselves to win the goals of the Ten Year Crusade that the Guardian had formulated. Great numbers entered the Faith, especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Tens of thousands swelled the number of believers in the sub-continent of India when the Bahá'í community there experienced large scale entry by troops. The number of local spiritual assemblies, the bedrock upon which the national spiritual assemblies were established, vastly increased and more national spiritual assemblies were also formed during the remaining years of the Ten Year Crusade.
In 1961 the Hands of the Cause arranged for the election of the International Bahá'í Council, the forerunner of the Universal House of Justice. The electors were members of the national spiritual assemblies that were functioning at the time in the five continents of the globe. In this way the International Bahá'í Council, whose members had been appointed by the Guardian, was transformed into an elected body.
The call for the election of the Universal House of Justice was made by the Hands of the Cause in their message of 5 November 1961 to the Bahá'í world, from which the following excerpts are taken:
With the erection in 1962 of twelve more future pillars[*] of that
supreme legislative Body of the Bahá'í world, a firm foundation
will have been laid for the election of 'that Universal House of
Justice which', Shoghi Effendi stated, 'as its title implies, is to be
the exponent and guardian of that Divine Justice which can alone
ensure the security of, and establish the reign of law and order in,
a strangely disordered world.'
[* National spiritual assemblies. These twelve national spiritual assemblies (11 in Europe, one in Ceylon) brought the number of national spiritual assemblies in the world to 56.]
We are now able to envisage the steps that must still be taken
before that 'Ark' referred to in Bahá'u'lláh's prophetic Tablet of
Carmel shall come into being, an ark whose dwellers, the Guardian
told us, 'are the men of the Supreme House of Justice which, in
conformity with the exact provisions of the Will and Testament of
the Centre of the Mighty Covenant, is the Body which should
legislate on laws not explicitly revealed in the Text. In this
Dispensation, these laws are destined to flow from this Holy Mountain,
even as in the Mosaic Dispensation the law of God was promulgated
The Chief Stewards of the Faith are therefore calling a Convention
in the Holy Land for the election of the Universal House of
Justice on the first, second and third days of Ridvan, 1963. The
members of all National and Regional Spiritual Assemblies elected
by the Bahá'ís in Ridvan, 1962, will, in conformity with the teachings,
constitute the electoral body empowered to vote for this
crowning unit of the embryonic World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, upon
whose deliberations the unique bounty of receiving divine inspiration
has been bestowed, and whose decisions are infallibly guided
by both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh.
After long and conscientious consideration of the needs of the
present hour and the writings of our dearly-loved Guardian, the
following decision has been reached: All male voting members
throughout the Bahá'í world are eligible for election to the Universal
House of Justice. The Hands of the Cause do not limit the freedom
of the electors. However, as they have been given the explicit duties
of guarding over the security and ensuring the propagation of the
Faith, they ask the electors to leave them free at this time to discharge
their duties. When that supreme and infallible Body has been elected
it will decide on all matters concerning its own membership.
[303 Conclave Message 1961, in Ministry of the Custodians, pp. 321-2.]
On 21 April 1963, exactly one hundred years after the declaration of Bahá'u'lláh in the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad, the members of 56 national spiritual assemblies throughout the world took part in the election of the Universal House of Justice. The voting occurred in the home of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Haifa, in a profoundly spiritual atmosphere. Thus the 'sailing of the Ark upon Mount Carmel', prophesied by Bahá'u'lláh, took place and the House of Justice came into being. It was a moment of relief and supreme joy for the members of the national spiritual assemblies and the Hands of the Cause to witness the birth of an institution which is to be the source of divine guidance until the end of this Dispensation. On this momentous occasion the Hands of the Cause sent the following message to the Bahá'í communities throughout the world:
OCCASION WORLDWIDE CELEBRATIONS MOST GREAT JUBILEE COMMEMORATING
CENTENARY ASCENSION BAHA'U'LLAH THRONE HIS
SOVEREIGNTY WITH HEARTS OVERFLOWING GRATITUDE HIS UNFAILING
PROTECTION OVERFLOWING BOUNTIES JOYOUSLY ANNOUNCE
FRIENDS EAST WEST ELECTION SUPREME LEGISLATIVE BODY ORDAINED
BY HIM IN HIS MOST HOLY BOOK PROMISED BY HIM RECEIVE HIS
INFALLIBLE GUIDANCE STOP MEMBERS FIRST HISTORIC HOUSE JUSTICE
DULY ELECTED BY DELEGATES COMPRISING MEMBERS FIFIYSIX NATIONAL
ASSEMBLIES ARE CHARLES WOLCOTT ALI NAKHJAVANI BORRAH
KAVELIN IAN SEMPLE LOTFULLAH HAKIM DAVID HOFMAN HUGH
CHANCE AMOZ GIBSON HUSHMAND FATHEAZAM STOP TO JUBILATION
ENTIRE BAHA'I WORLD VICTORIOUS COMPLETION BELOVED GUARDIAN'S
UNIQUE CRUSADE NOW ADDED HUMBLE GRATITUDE PROFOUND
THANKSGIVING FOLLOWERS BAHA'U'LLAH FOR ERECTION UNIVERSAL
HOUSE JUSTICE AUGUST BODY TO WHOM ALL BELIEVERS MUST TURN
WHOSE DESTINY IS TO GUIDE UNFOLDMENT HIS EMBRYONIC WORLD
ORDER THROUGH ADMINISTRATIVE INSTITUTIONS PRESCRIBED BY
BAHA'U'LLAH ELABORATED BY ABDU'L-BAHA LABORIOUSLY ERECTED
BY SHOGHI EFFENDI AND ENSURE EARLY DAWN GOLDEN AGE FAITH
WHEN THE WORD OF THE LORD WILL COVER THE EARTH AS THE
WATERS COVER THE SEA STOP...
[304 Cablegram from the Hands of the Cause, 21 April 1963, in ibid. pp. 425-6. (Ministry of the Custodians.)]