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Historical context of the Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh and some of the Guardian's objectives in writing it.
Presented as a homework assignment for the Wilmette Institute's "Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" Course.

The Dispensation of Baha'u'llah:
Its Continuing Place In History

by Helen T. Wilson

A.      Introduction

            Early in 1922 after the death of his beloved Grandfather, Shoghi Effendi may have asked himself how he was going to follow the directives and mandates set forth in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament. That the young Shoghi Effendi's vision quickly developed a plan (assuredly with Divine Guidance) which would take the Bahá'í Faith from relative obscurity to recognition as a new and independent world Faith can not now be debated. Looking back, we can see that a plan was developed, assiduously followed and slowly disclosed to the believers. One element of this plan was disclosed when, in 1934, just 13 years after the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh ("DOB")[1] to the Bahá'ís throughout the West "to call the attention of those who are destined to be the champion-builders of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh to certain fundamental verities the elucidation of which must tremendously assist them in the effective prosecution of their mighty enterprise." (DOB, Par. 5) As a culminating project in a six-week course dedicated to studying Shoghi Effendi's 1934 letter, this paper will attempt to explore the historical context surrounding the publication of this momentous document and further to explore the purpose and/or guidance this work continues to provide to Bahá'ís 66 years later.[2]

            In "The Dispensation Of Bahá'u'lláh," Shoghi Effendi contrasts the "slow and steady consolidation that characterizes the growth" of the "infant" Bahá'í Faith with the "devastating onrush of the forces of disintegration that are assailing the outworn institutions, both religious and secular, of present-day society" (DOB, Par. 124) in order to mobilize the faithful to a deepened understanding of this divinely inspired New World Order. In that letter he asked the believers: "[m]ight we not look upon the momentous happenings which, in the course of the past twenty years, have so deeply agitated every continent of the earth, as ominous signs simultaneously proclaiming the agonies of a disintegrating civilization and the birthpangs of that World Order-that Ark of human salvation-that must needs arise upon its ruins?" (DOB, Par. 127) To what disintegration was he referring? While Shoghi Effendi does not specifically identify the "disintegration" occurring in the world,[3] a brief review of a history text quickly sets the historical framework for that 20-year period which is referenced (from 1914 to 1934).

B.      World Events From 1914 to 1934

            Since this is not intended as a history lesson, simple highlights will set the stage. Significant historical events in the 1914 to 1934 time frame include:
  1. World War I began in 1914 following the murder of Archduke Ferdinand (the heir to the Austrian throne) by a Serb terrorist in Sarajevo

  2. The US declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1917

  3. World War I ended in 1918

  4. Women given the vote in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution

  5. Lindbergh completed his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927

  6. Stock Market crashed in October 1929, sending millions of people into bankruptcy and beginning what many called "The Great Depression"

  7. Franklin D. Roosevelt elected President of the US in 1932

  8. The World Economic Conference was held in London in 1933, but the participants failed to agree on international policies which would combat the worldwide depression.

  9. Adolph Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in January 1933

  10. The first prison camp used by Hitler to exterminate millions - Dachau - was opened in March 1933.

Can anyone who reads a newspaper (either electronic or print) or listens/watches the news by whatever medium question that similar disintegrating factors continue in this, the last year of the 20th century?

C.      Historical Review of Bahá'í Events from 1914 to 1934

                And within the Bahá'í Faith what was transpiring during this tumultuous time? Some significant events among the Bahá'í community which occurred during this same time-span included the following[4]:

  1. In June 1914, `Abdu'l-Bahá instructed the Pilgrims in the Holy Land to leave; Haifa is bombarded and the remaining Bahá'ís are sent to the Druze village for asylum

  2. The first International Bahá'í Congress was held in San Francisco in 1915

  3. `Abdu'l-Bahá revealed the Tablets of The Divine Plan in 1916 and 1917

  4. Shoghi Effendi received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the American University at Beirut in 1918 and began two years of service as `Abdu'l-Bahá's secretary before continuing his education at Oxford.

  5. In 1919 the `Convention of the Covenant' was held in New York, New York

  6. October 1920, Shoghi Effendi began studies at Balliol College, Oxford University; he was 23 years old at the time

  7. In March 1921 construction began on the House of Worship in Wilmette

  8. In November 1921 `Abdu'l-Bahá died in Haifa; Shoghi Effendi returned to Haifa from England in late December

  9. In January 1922 Mirza Muhammad-Ali's cohorts forcibly took the keys to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh; the governor of Akka ordered the keys to be handed to authorities and a guard was posted at the Shrine; the keys were returned to Shoghi Effendi in early 1923

  10. Bahá'í Scriptures, edited by Horace Holley, was published in 1923-- it is the first comprehensive collection of Bahá'í Writings translated into English; later that same year, Shoghi Effendi sent an early translation of Hidden Words to America (the revised version was published in 1925 and it was retranslated in 1927)

  11. In 1925 the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States was elected for the first time; Horace Holley was the first full-time secretary

  12. In 1926 Queen Marie of Romania learned of the Bahá'í Faith from Martha Root and later in that same year the Queen wrote a testimonial about the Faith which appeared in over 200 US and Canadian newspapers

  13. In February 1929, Shoghi Effendi wrote "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh"

  14. During the summer of 1929, Shoghi Effendi planned and then canceled an international conference to consider how to establish national spiritual assemblies so that the Universal House of Justice may eventually be created; Shoghi Effendi canceled such a meeting because he feared confusion and misunderstanding among the believers

  15. The covenant breakers finally left the Mansion of Bahji in November 1929

  16. In March 1930, Shoghi Effendi wrote "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh Further Considerations"

  17. In July 1930 Shoghi Effendi finished translation of the Kitab-I-Iqan (Book of Certitude)

  18. In November 1931, Shoghi Effendi wrote "The Goal of a New World Order"

  19. In March 1932, Shoghi Effendi wrote "The Golden Age of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh"; that same year Shoghi Effendi's translation of Nabil's The Dawnbreakers was published.

  20. In July 1932, the Greatest Holy Leaf, Bahiyyih Khanum died in Haifa

  21. In April 1933, Shoghi Effendi wrote "America and the Most Great Peace"

  22. In February 1934, Shoghi Effendi wrote "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh"
            As one reviews this extremely brief and very selective listing of events in Bahá'í history[5] one can discern first the great burdens faced by Shoghi Effendi and second, his methodical and systematic approach to teaching and preparing the fledgling Bahá'í communities for their responsibilities in the further unfoldment of the new World Order. With the benefit of hindsight and historical analysis, it becomes evident that very early in his work, the Guardian (Shoghi Effendi was only about 24 years old when the mantle of the Guardianship--previously unknown to him--was placed on his shoulders), set about to educate, challenge, and nurture the young Bahá'í community specifically to prepare it to "erect the structure of that blissful Commonwealth which must signalize the Golden Age of our Faith." (DOB, Par. 4) Even though immediately plagued by the mischievous and contemptible actions of the covenant-breakers in the Holy Land--who seized the keys to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh shortly after the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá-and troubled by the ongoing problems in the United States with covenant- breakers, Shoghi Effendi began in 1922 just shortly after the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá, in a very systematic and patient manner, the laborious process of building the Bahá'í community for its future role and obligations in the development of society.

D.      Shoghi Effendi's Systematic Efforts To Educate and Nurture The Young Faith

            Shoghi Effendi, we are told, saw as among his functions one "to win recognition for the Cause as a world religion entitled to the same status and prerogatives that other religions ... enjoyed." (The Priceless Pearl at 230[6]) To achieve this goal, this seemingly young and unquestionably bereaved individual took a very bold step following `Abdu'l-Bahá's passing: he steadfastly insisted that he would not follow the eastern habits practiced by his Grandfather (for example, he refused to wear the turban or the long robes which `Abdu'l-Bahá had always worn or to attend the mosque on Friday as had `Abdu'l-Bahá) because, he said, he "must devote himself undividedly to the work of the Cause." ( PP at 55) What a challenge this must have been for the Bahá'ís in Haifa. In addition to perceiving Shoghi Effendi's deeply felt grief and his youth, this departure from the routine followed by `Abdu'l-Bahá apparently caused some to believe that "the sooner the Universal House of Justice was formed the better for the Cause and for all concerned." (PP at 55) However, as we now look back, it is evident that this divestiture from the Muslim and/or eastern practices was a necessary step in the evolution of the Faith. Indeed, if the Faith were to gain the world-wide respect it deserved, it was necessary for it to be seen as an independent, a new, religious entity. Moreover, as demonstrated over the next 36 years under Shoghi Effendi's leadership, his maturity and vision did lead a young Bahá'í community to be respected as a new and independent world religion.

            Shoghi Effendi's efforts necessarily were directed both inwardly (towards the Bahá'ís themselves) and outwardly (towards the world's view of the Bahá'ís). In The Priceless Pearl, written by Shoghi Effendi's wife, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, in 1969 following the death of Shoghi Effendi, we learn about a 1929 Indian pilgrim's notes contained in a letter to a friend which described a statement in which "Shoghi Effendi says ... so long as the various National Assemblies do not have stabilized, well organized positions, it would be impossible to establish even an informal House of Justice." (PP at 249; see also The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith at 107[7]) It appears that Shoghi Effendi believed that the Divine Gift of the Administrative Order must, in this human realm, be built from the ground up - it must be built on a firm foundation. Looking back, we can see that the Guardian demonstrated keen insight in his patient approach.

            In 1921 when Shoghi Effendi became the Guardian pursuant to the terms of the Will and Testament of Abdul'l-Baha, he noted in his own logs that 35 countries were opened to the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. (PP at 391). Even in those countries in which the Faith had gained adherents, committed believers were not in sufficient numbers. (PP at 392) This was not the "stabilized" or "well organized" foundation necessary to build the New World Order. Therefore, in March 1923, Shoghi Effendi addressed this issue head on when he wrote to the Bahá'ís "throughout America, Great Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Japan and Australasia" and urged them "to deepen, first and foremost, the Spirit of His Cause in our own individual lives, and then labor, and labor incessantly." (Bahá'í Administration, at 30[8]). Further, however, he went on to counsel the believers that "it is of the utmost importance that ... in every locality, be it city or hamlet, where the number of adult declared believers exceeds nine, a local `Spiritual Assembly' be forewith established." (BA at 32) The formation of Assemblies was necessary to "provide the firm foundation on which the structure of the Master's Will is to be reared in future." (BA at 32) The establishment of local Spiritual Assemblies was the foundation for the creation of a National Spiritual Assembly -- the necessary precursor to the establishment of the Universal House of Justice. (BA at 34)

E.      The Guardians Continuing Communications With the Believers

            The Guardian's 1923 letter had activated a plan - a plan first and always based on the Bahá'u'lláh Divine Guidance as interpreted by `Abdu'l-Bahá. While in the space of these few pages it is impossible to explore all of the important and essential steps set in motion by the Guardian to implement the process by which the new World Order would be established, this paper will highlight certain selected events.[9] As listed above in the short and selective chronology of Bahá'í historical events, Shoghi Effendi devoted considerable effort during the early and mid-1920's to translating and publishing the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab for the benefit of the believers. In addition, Shoghi Effendi began a series of letters to the believers in the West which set forth the fundamental principles of this new Faith and established the process by which the new World Order would evolve. "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" was one of those letters.

            Between his appointment as the Guardian in 1921 and 1934 when "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" was published, Shoghi Effendi spent considerable energy and effort on the publication of the following:

  1. A series of letters to the believers in the West[10] began with the publication of "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh" and "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh Further Consideration." As noted in The Priceless Pearl, these two letters "were written in 1929 and 1930 respectively; they were designed to clarify for the believers the true meaning and purpose of their Faith, its tenets, its implications, its destiny and future and to guide the unfolding and slowly maturing Community in North America and in the West to a better understanding of its duties, its privileges and its destiny." (PP at 212)

  2. Shoghi Effendi next published "The Goal of a New World Order" in 1931. In The Priceless Pearl we are told that Shoghi Effendi associated this letter with the 10th anniversary of `Abdu'l-Bahá's death and that in it he "dwells at length on the condition of the world and the change which must be brought about between its component parts in the light of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá." (PP at 213)

  3. "The Golden Age of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh," published in 1932, clarified "the relationship of this Dispensation to those of the past and to the solution of the present problems facing the world." (PP at 213)

  4. Followed by "America and the Most Great Peace," written in 1933, Shoghi Effendi "dealt largely with the role this part of the world has been destined by God to play during this period in history, recalled the self-sacrificing journeys and services of the Master in the West and recapitulated the victories already won for the Faith by this favored Community." (PP at 213)

  5. The next letter, the focal point of this paper, "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh," was written in February 1934.

  6. Writings which followed the publication of "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" included the last letter in the series in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: "The Unfoldment of World Civilization," written in March 1936. Between the publication of the last two letters in the series, Shoghi Effendi published Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh in 1935, a work he described as "consisting of a selection of the most characteristic and hitherto unpublished passages from the outstanding works of the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation." (PP at 218; GBF at 93) In 1936-37 followed the translation of Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh (PP at 219; GBF at 93). In 1939 "Advent of Divine Justice" "set forth ...the role this Community was destined to play in the unfolding destiny of man on this planet." (PP at 219-20; GBF at 93-94). "The Promised Day Is Come," was published in 1941. In this lengthy letter Shoghi Effendi "thunders his denunciations of the perversity and sinfulness of this generation." (PP at 220; GBF at 94) Between these last two letters Shoghi Effendi translated The Epistle To The Son Of The Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh's last major work. (PP at 222; GBF at 95) This translation, worked on during the winter of 1939-40, was Shoghi Effendi's last translated book of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. (PP at 222; GBF at 95) Finally, God Passes By, Shoghi Effendi's history of the first 100 years of the Faith, and its shorter Persian and Arabic companion, were his last lengthy writings. (PP at 224-25; GBF at 97) During the last 13 years of his ministry, Shoghi Effendi did not translate any more books or write any more lengthy letters published in book form. (PP at 225; GBF at 97)
F.      The Necessity For Emphasizing the Fundamental Verities To The Bahá'ís

            Why did Shoghi Effendi dedicate so much of his early years as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith to translating, writing and communicating with the Western Bahá'ís? Aside from the fact that Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá had written extensively and these writings had not, as yet, been translated adequately,[11] one reason may have been that the Bahá'í Faith was not universally viewed even by its adherents in the West as an independent religion. This is demonstrated through the lives of the early believers when one realizes that, for example, until 1932 Horace Holley was actively involved in the Episcopalian church in New York, serving as a junior warden. During this same time frame Horace Holley served on the Spiritual Assembly of New York and on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States. (The Bahá'í Faith In America Early Expansion, 1900-1912, Vol. 2 at 404[12]) With the believers' energies so divided between this new Faith and the old religions, the Faith could not develop into the System which would lead eventually to the new World Order. It was imperative that, among other things, the believers understand that these teachings formed the basis for a new and independent world religion.

            Other confusions had also permeated the first believers in the West. In the early years there was even confusion as to what to call this new belief system. There was not a unified view of what this new faith was even to be called; in fact, the term "The Bahá'í Faith" was first known to be used in the 1904 constitution of the Chicago Bahá'í group, known at that time as the `House of Spirituality'. (Early Expansion 2 at 398)      Moreover, the "term `House of Spirituality' remained the accepted name of Chicago's governing body until Shoghi Effendi changed the names of all local consultative bodies to `spiritual assembly' in the early 1920's. (Early Expansion 2 at 396) Other issues also confounded the early believers, including questions regarding the station of `Abdu'l-Bahá.

G.      Shoghi Effendi's Efforts To Gain Public Acceptance Of The Bahá'í Faith As An Independent Religion           

                      Not only did Shoghi Effendi spend the early years of the Guardianship in systematic education of the Bahá'í community, he also spent untold energies in gaining legal recognition of the status of the Bahá'í Faith. For example, Shoghi Effendi spent significant energies attempting to obtain tax exemption for the Bahá'í properties in Palestine (now Israel). After significant and persistent effort, in 1934, Shoghi Effendi obtained tax exemption for the "entire area surrounding dedicated Shrines Mount Carmel." (PP at 269; GBF at 122) Shoghi Effendi viewed this as an extremely significant event because it secured "`indirect recognition sacredness Faith International Centre...'"[13] (PP at 269)

            Other such evidence had also been developing. In 1925 a court in Upper Egypt (under Muhammadan rule, a religious court) heard a case in which three women were divorcing their husbands, labeling them as heretics because the men had become Bahá'ís. The Muslim court condemned the heretics for violating the laws and ordinances of Islam and annulled the marriages, holding: "The Bahá'í Faith is a new religion, entirely independent, with beliefs, principles and laws of its own, which differ from, and are utterly in conflict with, the beliefs, principles and laws of Islam. No Bahá'í, therefore, can be regarded a Muslim or vice-versa, even as no Buddhist, Brahmin, or Christian can be regarded a Muslim or vice-versa." (PP at 318-319; GBF 159-60) The local court's ruling was "subsequently sanctioned and upheld by the highest ecclesiastical authorities in Cairo, and printed and circulated by the Muslims themselves." (PP at 319; GBF at 160) To Shoghi Effendi, the significance of this judgment was enormous, for it was a public recognition of the Faith's independent status.

H.      "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh"

            "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" was written in the midst of the time that, as Horace Holley noted in the Preface to the Tablets of the Divine Plan,14 the believers were responding to the need to build the Administrative Order: "[f]rom 1922 until 1936 the North American Bahá'ís were immersed in an effort to develop the institutions of the Administrative Order." This letter, as Shoghi Effendi himself states within its text, is "a general exposition of the fundamental verities of the Faith" which would be "inexcusable to either misconceive or ignore." (DOB, Par. 102)

            It cannot be denied that over the last 66 years the Faith has developed and grown extensively. There are now over 170 National/Regional Spiritual Assemblies, over 17,000 local Spiritual Assemblies and Bahá'ís living in over 121,000 localities[15]; does the letter's message retain its vibrancy today when there are so many National Spiritual Assemblies? The Universal House of Justice was elected first in 1963. Does the letter's message retain its vibrancy today when the House of Justice has been operating for nearly 40 years? Have we achieved the goals set by Shoghi Effendi? Have we passed that time when "[t]he world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind's ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System--the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed." (DOB, Par. 28 and Par. 99) Can we relax our vigilance now that it appears that the "fundamental verities" are well understood by those to whom this letter was addressed?

            Until the world enters the "Golden Age," Shoghi Effendi's admonitions continue to be relevant: "For upon our present day efforts, and above all upon the extent to which we strive to remodel our lives after the pattern of sublime heroism associated with those gone before us, must depend the efficacy of the instruments we now fashion--instruments that must erect the structure of that blissful Commonwealth which must signalize the Golden Age of our Faith." (DOB, Par. 4) Indeed, it continues to be "our clear duty to make it indubitably evident to every seeker after truth that from `the beginning that hath no beginning' the Prophets of the one, the unknowable God, including Bahá'u'lláh Himself, have all, as the channels of God's grace, as the exponents of His unity, as the mirrors of His light and the revealers of His purpose, been commissioned to unfold to mankind an ever-increasing measure of His truth, of His inscrutable will and Divine guidance, and will continue to `the end that hath no end' to vouchsafe still fuller and mightier revelations of His limitless power and glory." (DOB, Par. 51)

      The Administrative Order "constitutes the very pattern of that divine civilization which the almighty Law of Bahá'u'lláh is designed to establish upon earth." (DOB, Par. 117) Shoghi Effendi admonishes "Let no one, while this System is still in its infancy, misconceive its character, belittle its significance or misrepresent its purpose." (DOB, Par. 130)

I.      The New Administrative Order: What Challenges "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" Continues To Present           

            The New Administrative Order, Shoghi Effendi tells us, "is fundamentally different from anything that any Prophet has previously established, inasmuch as Bahá'u'lláh has Himself revealed its principles, established its institutions, appointed the person to interpret His Word and conferred the necessary authority on the body designed to supplement and apply His legislative ordinances." (DOB, Par. 96) This gift-the Administrative Order-provides a "guarantee against disintegration and schism" (DOB, Par. 96), problems which plagued other religions and which led to the divisions among members of other religious organizations.[16]

            Of what import is such information in an era where it appears that Bahá'ís have already acknowledged these principles as fact? In fact, each day presents a fresh lesson and a fresh opportunity to witness anew why Shoghi Effendi's 66 year-old message is as relevant today as it was when first written. While the Bahá'í community reached a sufficient mass and maturity to elect the Universal House of Justice in 1963, there are many aspects of Shoghi Effendi's admonitions and counsels in "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" which continue to present daily challenges to the Bahá'í community.

            One such example is presented when we examine Shoghi Effendi's statements that the Administrative Order of the Bahá'í Faith is the "framework" for the future World Order (DOB, Par. 95). Today, in the year 2000, is the "framework" of sufficient strength and size to suggest, let alone support, a New World Order? As Bahá'ís we must ask: Have we met the challenge in our local and national Spiritual Assemblies to which Shoghi Effendi alluded when he noted that the Administrative Order "will, as its component parts, its organic institutions, begin to function with efficiency and vigor, assert its claim and demonstrate its capacity to be regarded not only as the nucleus but the very pattern of the New World Order destined to embrace in the fulness of time the whole of mankind." (DOB, Par. 95) Have we demonstrated a capacity which would lead unquestionably to the conclusion that we can offer a pattern for the New World Order. I suggest that this admonition remains a challenge which the Bahá'í community must continue to address as we attempt to "function with efficiency and vigor" on a local, national and world-wide level in order to provide that "very pattern of the New World Order." Size - large numbers of believers - alone is not enough if we do not have "capacity." If we follow Shoghi Effendi's example, our efforts must be turned both inwards and outwards as we attempt to develop and/or look for that capacity. It is beyond the scope of this paper - indeed, it could be the subject of volumes of books - to discuss further what must be done as we prepare the Bahá'í community to "assert its claim."

            Another example of the continuing vitality of "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" is evident when we examine its myriad statements relating to the oneness of all religion. Shoghi Effendi states that the Bahá'í Revelation views prior religions "in no other light except as different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible, of which it itself forms but an integral part." (DOB, Par. 42) Is there not some call to action (directed both inwardly and outwardly) when we accept deeply within our beings the fact that, as Shoghi Effendi states, the Bahá'í "teachings do not deviate a hairbreadth from the verities they enshrine, nor does the weight of its message detract one jot or one tittle from the influence they exert or the loyalty they inspire." (DOB, Par. 42) How do we, in today's society, first experience and then demonstrate that the Bahá'í Faith's "unalterable purpose is to widen their [other religions] basis, to restate their fundamentals, to reconcile their aims, to reinvigorate their life, to demonstrate their oneness, to restore the pristine purity of their teachings, to coordinate their functions and to assist in the realization of their highest aspirations." (DOB, Par. 42) Even though an independent world religion, do we not need to know the "purpose," the "fundamentals," the "aims," etc. of these prior religions in order to demonstrate this unity? Shoghi Effendi's counsel, I would suggest, would ask that we not only study and learn about these other religions, but that the Bahá'ís act on these principles as well. Would this suggest that communities and individuals should appoint liaisons to interfaith groups? Other options most probably exist which would be unique to each community.

            One last example for purposes of this paper: numerous times in "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh", Shoghi Effendi counsels the believers regarding the importance of studying the wealth of Revelation given by the three central figures of the Faith. The Faithful are advised: "To strive to obtain a more adequate understanding of the significance of Bahá'u'lláh's stupendous Revelation must ... remain the first obligation and the object of the constant endeavor of each one of its loyal adherents." (DOB, Par. 8) Shoghi Effendi further urges: "To the words that have streamed from His pen--the fountainhead of so impetuous a Revelation--we should, therefore, direct our attention if we wish to obtain a clearer understanding of its importance and meaning." (DOB, Par. 17) As either individuals or communities, are we engaged in a "constant endeavor" to study the Writings? As an Assembly or a community, do we make sure that opportunities are made available for the believers to engage in constant endeavors to reach a "clearer understanding"?

J.      Conclusion

            Undoubtedly, as these few examples demonstrate, "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" has a significant message for all Bahá'ís today. It is not simply a historical document, it is a vital, living document with continuing guidance - not just for today, but for all of the to morrows to come.


[1]      Further references to "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" will be in the following format: "DOB, Par. ____". The paragraph number will be inserted in the blank.
[2]      This paper is not, nor is it intended to be, exhaustive. Indeed, within the space of these few pages it is not possible to be exhaustive. These thoughts are offered as an initial exploration. Indeed, I suspect that upon completion of a study of the remaining letters published in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, a significant update to this paper will be required.
[3]      However, it should be noted that in DOB, Pars. 126 and 128, Shoghi Effendi does paint a picture of an "ailing and chaotic world" in which numerous catastrophic events have occurred, some of which, as he notes, were foretold by Bahá'u'lláh. The references are general, not to specific events.
[4]      Unless otherwise specifically noted, dates related to Bahá'í activities are taken from Cameron, Glenn with Momen, Wendi, A Basic Bahá'í Chronology (George Ronald Publisher, England, 1996).
[5]      For a more complete chronology, see A Basic Bahá'í Chronology
[6]      Rabanni, Ruhiyyih, The Priceless Pearl (Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London, 1969); further references will be in the following format: PP at ___ (page number will be inserted in the blank).
[7]      Rabanni, Ruhiyyih, The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith (Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London,1988); reference will be in the following format: GBF at ____ (page number will be inserted in the blank). Much of this book is a reiteration of The Priceless Pearl. Because The Priceless Pearl is out of print, whenever possible a citation will be given to The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. However, it is not always possible to cite to both books since there are numerous passages from The Priceless Pearl which are not repeated in The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.
[8]      Effendi, Shoghi, Bahá'í Administration (Bahá'í Publishing Committee, New York, 1928); reference will be in the following format: BA at ____ (page number will be inserted in the blank). This book contained excerpts from the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, a copy of the Declaration of Trust by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, and copies of letters from Shoghi Effendi written between January 21, 1922 and October 18, 1927.
[9]      No indication of importance should be presumed based on the highlights selected for discussion. The selection of highlights was made entirely by the author.
[10]      Each of the following listed letters is collected and published in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. As noted in Horace Holley's introduction to the 1974 revised edition, this collection of letters "establishes the Bahá'í Administrative Order as the nucleus and pattern of the world civilization...." (p. v)
[11]      In addition to Some Answered Questions which was published in English in 1908, by1921 there were a "at least a hundred" pamphlets and small books produced in English and available to the believers. See A Basic Bahá'í Chronology for the years 1908 and 1917. A major portion of what was available in English was gathered together and published in Bahá'í Scriptures, edited by Horace Holley in 1923. See A Basic Bahá'í Chronology for the year 1923. Bahá'í Scriptures was replaced by Bahá'í World Faith in 1943. Horace Holley wrote the following "Editor's Note" at the end of Bahá'í World Faith: "This volume has been compiled to replace the work published in 1923 under the title of "Bahá'í Scriptures," and contains later and more accurate translations, as well as Tablets and Prayers not then accessible in English."
[12]      Stockman, Robert, The Bahá'í Faith In America Early Expansion, 1900-1912, Vol. 2, (George Ronald Publisher 1995); reference will be in the following format: Early Expansion 2 at ___ ( page number will be inserted in the blank).
[13]      When Shoghi Effendi sent cables - of which this is an example - the messages were short, skipping any words not necessary to convey the meaning. Shoghi Effendi's cable messages were nearly an art form in themselves based on the manner in which language was sparsely used to convey a thought.
14      Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan (Bahá'í Publishing Trust 1959); reference will be in the following format: Divine Plan at ___ (page number will be inserted in the blank).
[15]      "The Bahá'ís A Profile Of the Bahá'í Faith And Its Worldwide Community" (Bahá'í International Community, 1992), p. 44; see also Statistics provided by the Bahá'í Office of Public Information dated 9/96.
[16]      See Richardson, Alan, Creeds in the Making A Short Introduction To The History of Christian Doctrine (Macmillan Company, New York, 1967) for a relatively brief description of the challenges faced by the early Christians in attempting to develop the basic tenets of the faith inaugurated by Jesus. This book looks at the four Ecumenical Councils: Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381, Ephesus in 431, and Chalcedon in 451. In this work, the author notes that "the Church owes a great deal to heretics. For she was led to develop her theology largely through the pressure which they brought to bear upon her; correct formulations were necessary if men were to see the error of the heretical systems." Creeds at p. 33.
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