The Covenant, A Shield for the Protection of the Faith
l-WT All-Praise to Him Who, by the Shield of His Covenant,
hath guarded the Temple of His Cause from the darts of doubtfulness,
Who by the Hosts of His Testament hath preserved the
Sanctuary of His most Beneficent Law and protected His Straight
and Luminous Path, staying thereby the onslaught of the company
of Covenant-breakers, that have threatened to subvert His
Divine Edifice; Who hath watched over His Mighty Stronghold
and All-Glorious Faith, through the aid of men whom the slander
of the slanderer affect not, whom no earthly calling, glory and
power can turn aside from the Covenant of God and His Testament,
established firmly by His clear and manifest words, writ
and revealed by His All-Glorious Pen and recorded in the
The opening paragraph of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá is an anthem of praise and glorification to Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Covenant; it is also a tribute to those believers who defended His Covenant with great courage and heroism.
This passage describes the Covenant as a shield protecting the temple of the Cause of God from the assaults of the Covenant-breakers. The institution of the Covenant tests the faithfulness of the believers, separating the good from the evil. It also provides the means for preserving the unity and ensuring the healthy development of the community. During His ministry Bahá'u'lláh Himself was the protector of His own Cause. The continuation of the Covenant, the most vital instrument for safeguarding and strengthening the foundations of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh after His ascension, was established through the revelation of the Kitab-i-'Ahd. What was only implicit in the Kitab-i-Aqdas was now made explicit in the Kitab-i-'Ahd: the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh was announced to the believers. The passage, 'Turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root', revealed in the former book, was now clearly stated to mean 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'u'lláh unequivocally affirms 'The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch'.
[50 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p. 221.]
This clear appointment of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Centre of the Covenant safeguards the unity of the Bahá'í community and protects it against schism and all manner of division. Similarly, the appointment of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament perpetuates the process of protection until the end of the Bahá'í Dispensation. No other religion, including that of the Bab, has brought into being an instrument designed so to ensure the unity of its community. Through the institution of the Covenant, the mighty stronghold of the Cause of God has remained invincible in spite of the powerful assaults launched against it over a long period by the Covenant-breakers. For example, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali and his supporters viciously attacked the Cause of God with such ferocity that the opposition against the faithful in previous Dispensations fades into insignificance compared to it. In spite of this, the Covenant-breakers failed miserably and the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh triumphed.
It was not so in past religions. If we look at the history of Islam we note that after the Prophet passed away, His followers almost immediately became divided into the two major sects of Sunni and Shi'ah. As previously recounted, Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, had made a verbal statement appointing 'Ali-Ibn-i-Abu Talib, known as Imam 'Ali, as His successor. But this appointment was disputed as Muhammad left behind no document to support it.
There is an episode widely spoken of, especially among the Shi'ahs, concerning the last days of Muhammad's earthly life. It is claimed that as He lay on His deathbed, four of His outstanding followers were with Him. They were Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman, and 'Ali. Abu Bakr was the father-in-law of the Prophet and 'Ali was His cousin and son-in-law. Muhammad is reported to have called for writing materials, wishing to leave some guidance for His followers. But the scheming 'Umar, a shrewd tactician, did not allow the wish of the Prophet to be realized. He said that the Prophet, so near the time of His death, was not of sound mind and therefore no writing materials should be given to Him. The Shi'ahs, who follow Imam 'Ali, claim that had the Prophet been allowed to write His will He would have confirmed the verbal statement He had made at Ghadir-i-Khumm concerning the appointment of 'Ali as His successor.
When Muhammad passed away, 'Umar rallied the majority of the followers around the old and ailing Abu Bakr, who enjoyed a great deal of prestige among the people. He became the first Khalif (Caliph) of Islam. Two years later when Abu Bakr died, 'Umar became the second Khalif and under his direction the military conquests of the Muslims soon began. Through the influence exerted by 'Umar the great majority of the followers of Muhammad, the Sunnis, rejected the claims of Imam 'Ali to successorship.
It is a fundamental belief of the Bahá'ís that Imam 'Ali was the lawful successor of the Prophet of Islam. After him his lineal male descendants, known as the 'holy Imams', led the Shi'ah community until the year 260 AH. Bahá'u'lláh regarded the Imams as the legitimate successors of the Prophet, acknowledged the value of their work in the elucidation of the Qur'an, confirmed many of their sayings as recorded in the books of 'Ahadith' (traditions), quoted several of these in His writings, interpreted their words, extolled their station (especially that of Husayn, the third Imam) in glowing terms and referred to them as 'those unquenchable lights of divine guidance' and 'those lamps of certitude'.
[51 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 144.]
[52 ibid. p. 153 (Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan.)]
Through his misguided opposition to 'Ali, 'Umar frustrated Muhammad's intentions regarding His successorship and the direction of the affairs of Islam. When Imam 'Ali attempted to assert his position as Muhammad's verbally designated successor and the expounder of the Word of God as revealed in the Qur'an, 'Umar's response was the fateful remark: 'The Book of God is sufficient unto us.' This short statement has echoed through the centuries. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in His celebrated Tablet the Lawh-i-Hizar Bayti (Tablet of One Thousand Verses), describes its woeful consequences, saying that this statement caused the foundation of the religion of God in the Islamic Dispensation to be shattered and the ignoble worshippers of self and passion to rule over the righteous souls. It became a deadly weapon by which the Imam 'Ali himself was martyred, which caused great divisions within the nation of Islam and which changed the loving spirit of that nation to one of armed warriors. In His Tablet 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains that as a result of this statement Imam Husayn, the most illustrious of the Imams, was decapitated on the plain of Karbila, the other holy Imams were inflicted with great suffering, imprisonment and death, and the blood of countless innocent souls was shed for almost twelve hundred years.
'Abdu'l-Bahá further affirms that 'Umar's statement, 'The Book of God is sufficient unto us', was transformed centuries later into the hundreds of bullets that pierced the breast of the Bab in Tabriz; that it became the chains placed around the blessed neck of Bahá'u'lláh and brought about the untold suffering inflicted upon Him in the course of His successive exiles.
'Abdu'l-Bahá attributes all these and many more atrocities committed during the Islamic Dispensation to the influence of the simple statement 'The Book of God is sufficient unto us'. It deprived the greater part of the Islamic nation not only of divine guidance and the wealth of spiritual knowledge imparted by the holy Imams to their followers through their interpretation and elucidation of the many abstruse passages in the Qur'an, but also of their illuminating prophecies concerning the advent of the Qa'im, the Promised One of Islam.
The course of history itself changed as a result of 'Umar's opposition to Imam 'Ali. The successful breaking of the Covenant of Muhammad by 'Umar through his refusal to submit to Imam 'Ali as the lawful successor of the Prophet and the interpreter of His words brought about, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, dim consequences for many nations and peoples. Who knows in what manner the Faith of Islam would have spread and its community developed had all its followers remained faithful to the wishes of Muhammad and followed Imam 'Ali as His lawful successor. 'Abdu'l-Bahá implies in the Lawh-i-Hizar Bayti that if the nation of Islam had been faithful to 'Ali, many of the atrocities and cruelties committed since the passing of Muhammad could have been mitigated or avoided.
Such are the dire consequences of man's violation of the Covenant. Unlike past Dispensations when religions divided into many sects and denominations, in the Bahá'í Dispensation the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, endowed with the mysterious power born of the divine Will, has been instrumental in preventing schisms from occurring within the Faith. The institution of the Covenant has conferred authority on the central institutions of the Cause to expel anyone who publicly rises in opposition against the Centre of the Cause — 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice. It acts as a surging sea, casting onto its shores dead bodies and cleansing itself from their unwholesome effects. It does not harbour those ambitious and learned individuals who, in the guise of reformers, might attempt to substitute, with subtlety and craftiness, the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh with their own doctrines or try to undermine the foundations of the Cause by casting doubt on the sacred verities of the Faith enunciated by the pen of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi. Indeed, the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh has been and will continue to be the inviolable guarantor of the invincibility of the Cause and its divinely-ordained institutions and the means of the fulfilment of Bahá'u'lláh's words, that this is 'the Day which shall not be followed by night'.
[53 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 245.]
In the opening paragraph of the Will and Testament reference is made to 'the onslaught of the company of Covenant-breakers'. We shall see in the following pages the accounts of some of their vicious attacks against the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh and the Centre of His Covenant. In the same passage, mention is made of the protection given to the Cause 'through the aid of men whom the slander of the slanderer affect not, whom no earthly calling, glory and power can turn aside from the Covenant of God and His Testament, established firmly by His clear and manifest words, writ and revealed by His All-Glorious Pen and recorded in the Preserved Tablet'.
To appreciate the role of the believers in protecting the Cause, as mentioned in the foregoing passage, we observe that in every age God bestows upon humanity the precious gift of divine Revelation through the advent of the Manifestation of God who formulates the laws and teachings of a religion. The part that man has to play is to propagate, promote and consolidate the religion. This is the function of the believers and not of the Manifestation of God. Bahá'u'lláh by Himself does not directly promote the interests of His Faith among people but He does assist all those who arise to serve His Cause. If the believer does not arise, Shoghi Effendi states, 'The sustaining strength of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, the Founder of the Faith, will be withheld from every and each individual who fails in the long run to arise and play his part.' In the Lawh-i-Tibb (Tablet of Medicine) and in other Tablets, Bahá'u'lláh states that if the friends had lived in accordance with His commandments, the majority of the peoples of the world would have embraced His Faith in His days.
[54 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 131.]
These statements clearly indicate that the progress and protection of the Cause depend upon the efforts of the believers which in turn attract the confirmations of Bahá'u'lláh. In the passage above, 'Abdu'l-Bahá confirms that Bahá'u'lláh 'watched over His Mighty Stronghold and All-Glorious Faith, through the aid of men whom the slander of the slanderer affect not, whom no earthly calling, glory and power can turn aside from the Covenant of God and His Testament'. This passage extolling the devotion and exalted character of these men is partially quoted by 'Abdu'l-Bahá from a verse of the Qur'an (24:37), to which He has added His own words.
The Bahá'ís of the East and the West were strengthened in their faith through the untiring and persistent efforts of these men spoken of by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. They were some of the most loyal and learned teachers of the Faith who not only deepened the believers in the subject of the Covenant but also rallied around the Master and, like lions, defended the Covenant against the onslaught of the Covenant-breakers. These holy souls, 'the learned ones in Baha' whom Bahá'u'lláh describes as 'the billows of the Most Mighty Ocean' and 'the stars of the firmament of Glory', were the four Hands of the Cause of God as well as outstanding teachers such as Haji Abu'l-Hasan-i-Amin, Haji Mirza Haydar-'Ali, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl[*] and several others. Mirza Abu'l-Fadl travelled to the United States where he succeeded in deepening new believers in the subject of the Covenant and helped them to counteract the misrepresentations of the Covenant-breaker Khayru'llah and a few others. Soon after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh these teachers of the Cause travelled extensively throughout Persia and met with the entire community. Lacking modern means of transport, these steadfast souls travelled by donkey to every town and village and met with all the believers, either individually or in gatherings. They explained the verities of the Faith in great detail, helped the believers to study many of the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, discussed the meanings enshrined in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and the Kitab-i-'Ahd, and convincingly clarified any questions raised. These devoted promoters of the Cause were so imbued with the love of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá that wherever they went they imparted that same love to the believers. Wholly detached from earthly things, they were truly 'a river of life eternal' to the loved ones of God and were instrumental in strengthening the faith of the believers and confirming them in the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh.
[55 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, para. 173.]
[*For the life story of this great Bahá'í scholar see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh vols. 2 and 3.]
[56 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet of Ahmad, Bahá'í Prayers, p. 211.]
Seldom in the history of the Cause do we find an occasion when the power of the Covenant manifested itself with such intensity and effectiveness as it did in Persia after the expulsion from the Faith of those who rebelled against the Centre of the Covenant. The speed with which the pollution of Covenant-breaking was removed from the community of the Most Great Name in the Cradle of the Faith was spectacular The reaction of the believers in that country to the news of the defection of some of the great teachers of the Faith was to shun them almost immediately. No less significant was the fact that the entire Bahá'í community of Persia, with the exception of a very few individuals, remained loyal to the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh. The efforts of the Covenant-breakers to mislead the believers were so ineffective that towards the end of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry there were only a few individuals anywhere in that vast community who could be labelled Covenant-breakers. In the West, too, the friends were steadfast in the Covenant and united in their love for and service to the Cause.
The efforts exerted by outstanding teachers of the Cause were not only directed to the rank and file of the Bahá'í community. Indeed, here were occasions when some devoted believers asked 'Abdu'l-Bahá's permission to counsel the arch-breaker of the Covenant himself that he might recognize his transgression against the Cause and repent for violating His father's Covenant. For example, in the early days of the clandestine opposition by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, an interview took place between him and Haji Mirza Haydar-'Ali,[*] a renowned teacher of the Faith. Haji Mirza Haydar-'Ali was about to leave 'Akka and 'Abdu'l-Bahá advised him, as a matter of courtesy, to visit the Mansion of Bahji to say farewell to the family of Bahá'u'lláh. 'Abdu'l-Bahá intimated that Mirza Muhammad-'Ali might invite him to meet in private. If this happened, the Haji was advised to accept the invitation and, in a spirit of humility and sincerity, to say whatever his heart and conscience dictated. This is how the Haji records the story of the interview:
[* For a brief account of his life and achievements see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 2.]
It was late at night when Mirza Muhammad-'Ali summoned me
to his room. He asked his son Shu'a'u'llah, who was present, to
leave, because he wanted to talk to me confidentially. After much
conversation, he said: 'I wish to ask you a question in confidence.
Don't you think that I could have also inherited what my brother
['Abdu'l-Bahá] has inherited from the Blessed Beauty?'
I said to him: 'In all His references to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Blessed
Beauty has assigned to Him all the exalted names and praiseworthy
attributes. He enjoined on us all to show forth, for the
exaltation of His Cause, the utmost love and humility towards His
Person. In the Kitab-i-'Ahd, He has clearly stated: "It is incumbent
upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and My Kindred to turn, one and all,
their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch." Therefore to the
extent that you show forth humility, self-effacement and utter
nothingness to His blessed Person ['Abdu'l-Bahá], you will accordingly
acquire the exalted qualities you wish to have. Based on the
same principle, you will lose these qualities to the extent that you
lessen the measure of your humility and submissiveness towards
Him. The reason for this is that all the praise and honour which
are bestowed upon you by Bahá'u'lláh are dependent upon certain
conditions. Certain verses of the Kitab-i-Aqdas and their further
elucidation in the Kitab-i-'Ahd are as unequivocal and clear as the
sun in mid-sky. God forbid, if for one moment in your heart you
might think the passage in the Kitab-i-'Ahd ought to have directed
the Aghsan, the Afnan and others to turn their faces to Ghusn-i-Akbar
[the Greater Branch, i.e. Mirza Muhammad-'Ali]. It is clear
that you do not possess what the Master possesses. God, exalted
be He, does not act hypocritically, nor does He create means of
division among people. It is impossible for the One True God to
entrust the guardianship of His Cause to two individuals at the
same time... Apart from all this, who is it in this world of being
that can claim to rival the Master on any level?'
I was talking on these lines when he arose from his seat saying
it was time to go to bed, so I left him.
[57 Haydar-'Ali, Bihjatu's-Sudur, pp. 337-8.]
The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh may be regarded as a protective wall surrounding the great ocean of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation. There were many unscrupulous attempts to break through that wall and serious attacks by several outstanding followers of the Faith who rebelled against the Centre of the Covenant in order to promote their own selfish desires, to introduce their own ideas into the teachings, to divide the Faith of God and consequently to contaminate the heavenly stream of the Word of God; but they did not succeed in creating a breach in the Bahá'í community. Based on a firm foundation, the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh was an impregnable wall around the ocean of His Revelation. This great ocean surged within the soul of 'Abdu'l-Bahá for 29 years and He bestowed its life-giving waters upon thousands of men and women throughout the East and the West. He left for posterity the unadulterated Word of God, free of every trace of distortion and defilement.
'Abdu'l-Bahá attributes all these achievements to the overshadowing confirmations of Bahá'u'lláh, which assisted those who championed His Cause and stood unswervingly firm and steadfast in 'the Covenant of God and His Testament, established firmly by His clear and manifest words, writ and revealed by His All-Glorious Pen and recorded in the Preserved Tablet'.