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Explorations in the Harmony of Science and Religion – All Things Baha’i StaffJeanine Goodson Hensley, Mike Moum, Iain Palin, Dana Paxson, Lynette Wilson, Mark Zen
“On the [day] of the first Naw-Ruz (1909), which He celebrated after His release from His confinement, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had the marble sarcophagus transported with great labor to the vault prepared for it, and in the evening, by the light of a single lamp, He laid within it, with His own hands—in the presence of believers from the East and from the West and in circumstances at once solemn and moving – the wooden casket containing the sacred remains of the Báb and His companion. When all was finished, and the earthly remains of the Martyr-Prophet of Shiraz were, at long last, safely deposited for their everlasting rest in the bosom of God’s holy mountain, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who had cast aside His turban, removed His shoes and thrown off His cloak, bent low over the still open sarcophagus, His silver hair waving about His head and His face transfigured and luminous, rested His forehead on the border of the wooden casket, and, sobbing aloud, wept with such a weeping that all those who were present wept with Him. That night He could not sleep, so overwhelmed was He with emotion. The most joyful tidings is this,” He wrote later in a Tablet announcing to His followers the news of this glorious victory, “that the holy, the luminous body of the Báb … after having for sixty years been transferred from place to place, by reason of the ascendancy of the enemy, and from fear of the malevolent, and having known neither rest nor tranquillity has, through the mercy of the Abhá Beauty, been ceremoniously deposited, on the day of Naw-Rúz, within the sacred casket, in the exalted Shrine on Mt. Carmel… By a strange coincidence, on that same day of Naw-Rúz, a cablegram was received from Chicago, announcing that the believers in each of the American centers had elected a delegate and sent to that city … and definitely decided on the site and construction of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar.”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 276)
Image: The Baha’is of Mandalay, Burma, with the marble casket offered by them for the remains of the Bab, April 22, 1898.
“On the morning of March 21st 1909, the day of Naw-Ruz, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had the marble sarcophagus — gift of the Bahá’ís of Rangoon — carried up the mountain and placed in the vault. That evening He laid in the sarcophagus the wooden casket which contained the inseparable remains of the Báb and the disciple who had died with Him. A solitary lamp lit the scene, so poignant and yet so exultant. The Báb had been cruelly maligned, cruelly wronged, cruelly put to death. His torn and smashed body had had no home for many long years. Now the heart of Carmel was receiving it forevermore. Of this event Zechariah had written: ‘Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord’. How mysteriously and indubitably had his prophecy come true. ‘The Branch’ had built ‘the temple of the Lord’, had raised His ‘tabernacle’ on His Mountain — on Carmel — the Mountain of God.”
(Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant’)
Let’s revisit this extract from a letter from Shoghi Effendi’s secretary written on his behalf – and please recall that such letters were not only written at the direction of Shoghi Effendi; the vast majority of them also bear Shoghi Effendi’s signature:
“As regards the meaning of the Bahá’í Covenant: The Guardian considers the existence of two forms of Covenant both of which are explicitly mentioned in the literature of the Cause . . . . The second form of Covenant is such as the one Bahá’u’lláh made with His people that they should accept the Master. This is merely to establish and strengthen the succession of the series of Lights that appear after every Manifestation. Under the same category falls the Covenant the Master made with the Bahá’ís that they should accept His administration after Him.” (From a letter on behalf of the Guardian dated October 21, 1932; Directives from the Guardian, p. 15, #43)
Please pay special attention to that last sentence:
“the Covenant the Master made with the Bahá’ís that they should accept His administration after Him.”
This is an extremely important point. It is common to hear Bahá’ís say that the Master was the Successor to Bahá’u’lláh, as was written by Baha’u’llah’s own pen in His Will; and that Shoghi Effendi was the successor to the Master, as was written by the Master’s own pen in His Will; and then the statements from the friends sometimes get sort of fuzzy. Generally there is no mention that the House of Justice is also named as the Master’s successor in His own handwriting in His Will – but that is the case. The House of Justice is not the Head of the Faith because there’s no one else to do it; it is the Head of the Faith because the Master, in the same passage where He names the Guardian as His successor, names the House of Justice as His successor. The House of Justice is not only the supreme Body and infallible; it is in the line of successorship. The House of Justice is one of the twin Successors of the Manifestation and `Abdu’l-Bahá. This is perhaps the most important point in these materials.
The Universal House of Justice is, in conjunction with the Guardianship, the Successor to `Abdu’l-Bahá
In this statement, Shoghi Effendi states who the Successors of the Master and Bahá’u’lláh are:
“They [Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá] have also, in unequivocal and emphatic language, appointed those twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship as their chosen Successors, destined to apply the principles, promulgate the laws, protect the institutions, adapt loyally and intelligently the Faith to the requirements of progressive society, and consummate the incorruptible inheritance which the Founders of the Faith have bequeathed to the world.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 19.)
So in these quotations above, we have one statement from Shoghi Effendi stating that the twin institutions of the House of Justice and the Guardianship are the Successors; and in another statement on his behalf, he states this another way—that the successor to the Master is “His administration”.
Emeric Sala, a devoted believer, went on pilgrimage during 1937 and left this account of a conversation with the beloved Guardian:
One night Shoghi Effendi asked me a question, which I could not answer, nor did I understand its significance at that time. Shoghi Effendi asked me:
“Since after the martyrdom of the Báb the authority of the Faith was passed on to Bahá’u’lláh, and after his passing to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, to whom was it transferred after the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá?”
I answered, of course, to Shoghi Effendi. He said no. I then said the Guardian. He again shook his head. I then ventured the Universal House of Justice. He again said no, and I could see from his expression that he was disappointed with my inability to answer his question. Then he asked, are the friends not reading my letters? The answer, he said, is clearly stated in The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh. It is divided into four parts: Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the fourth part entitled the “World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,” which is the answer to his question. Shoghi Effendi’s Question (Actually, the fourth section is entitled the “Administrative Order.”)
As the House of Justice wrote in its Constitution, the Covenant of Baha’u’llah
“…continues to fulfil its life-giving purpose through the agency of the Universal House of Justice whose fundamental object, as one of the twin successors of Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá, is to ensure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of the Faith…” (The Constitution of The Universal House of Justice, p. 3)
A Covenant has two parties, each of whom makes a solemn promise to the other. God promises something to us – and we promise something to God. We became parties to the twin Covenants of Baha’u’llah and the Master when we became Baha’is.
God’s part of the Covenant: Baha’u’llah and the Master promise to guide the Universal House of Justice.
Our part of the Covenant: We promise to turn to it, and to seek its guidance.
The heart of the Master’s Covenant is contained in these words:
The sacred and youthful branch, the guardian of the Cause of God as well as the Universal House of Justice, to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abhá Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of His Holiness, the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both). Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God. May the wrath, the fierce indignation, the vengeance of God rest upon him!” (The Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Baha, p. 11)
The Master here covenants, or promises, that both the Guardian of the Cause and the Universal House of Justice are guided by Bahá’u’lláh (“The Abhá Beauty”) and the Báb (“His Holiness, the Exalted One”). In one of his World Order letters, Shoghi Effendi states that the Bab and Baha’u’llah are both “presiding … over the destinies of this supreme Dispensation” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 97), echoing the Master’s solemn Covenant that both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh guide the Universal House of Justice and the Guardian. This is God’s part of the Master’s Covenant; it is a re-phrasing of what He writes on page 11 of His Will.
Man’s part of the Covenant—to turn to these twin institutions and seek their guidance—is stated in the rest of that paragraph on page 11 of the Will, and again in the closing words of the Master’s Will:
Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God. (The Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Baha, p. 11)
All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error. (The Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 25-26)
Imagine the significance of this passage. These are the very last words of Abdu’l-Baha to the human race – turn to the Guardian and to the Universal House of Justice. These words are worthy of memorizing, and of teaching to our children.
The Close Functioning of the Twin Institutions
In His Will (p. 14), the Master provided that the Universal House of Justice was to be elected by the National Spiritual Assemblies (referred to in the Will as the “Secondary Houses of Justice”), and that the Guardian of the Cause would serve as its permanent Chairman:
“. . . the Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body.”
As a side-note, the title given to Shoghi Effendi by the Master, is Ghusn-i-Mumtaz or the Chosen Branch. Mumtaz is an Arabic word that is used, for example, to designate the best student in a class. It appears again in the Master’s Will, p. 14, translated as “distinguished” – the Guardian is the “distinguished” member of the House of Justice.
As the House of Justice has written, the Master “obviously envisaged their functioning together,” i.e. the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. (Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 87)
Shoghi Effendi also referred to this relationship between these twin institutions in a letter he wrote to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine:
The passing of `Abdu’l-Bahá marked the termination of the first and Heroic Age of the Bahá’í Faith and signalized the opening of the Formative Age destined to witness the gradual emergence of its Administrative Order, whose establishment had been foretold by the Báb, whose laws were revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, whose outlines were delineated by `Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will and Testament, and whose foundations are now being laid by the national and local councils which are elected by the professed adherents of the Faith, and which are paving the way for the constitution of the World Council, to be designated as the Universal House of Justice, which in conjunction with me, as its appointed Head and authorized interpreter of the Bahá’í teachings, must coordinate and direct the affairs of the Bahá’í community, and whose seat will be permanently established in the Holy Land, in close proximity to its world spiritual center, the resting-places of its Founders. Summary Statement – 1947, Special UN Committee on Palestine (Under the sub-heading “The Administrative Order”)
As we will see in the next two Units of this course, these two divine institutions have each had to function separately from the other. Each was independently promised infallible divine guidance – in the case of the Universal House of Justice, this promise was made by Baha’u’llah, as well as by the Master.
The Ayyám-i-Há holiday begins each year on the evening of February 25 and ends at sunset on March 1st. Of this period Bahá’u’lláh writes: “It behoveth the people of Bahá, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy, and with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name.”
A closer look at the history and background of Ayyám-i-Há can help us to value it even more for its unique spirit, resist any temptation to turn it into a “Christmas equivalent,” and discover some of its beautiful and mystical symbolic meanings. The Bahá’í calendar of 19 months of 19 days needs 4 days (5 in leap years) to equal a solar year. By definition such added days are “intercalary” days. In revealing this “Bábí” calendar, the Báb did not say exactly where to place the extra days. Some of the early Bábís included them as part of the Fast, others stopped fasting 4 or 5 days before Naw-Rúz (the new calendar year). Bahá’u’lláh named these days in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and specified their place in the year:
“Let the days in excess of the months be placed before the month of fasting. We have ordained that these, amid all nights and days, shall be the manifestations of the letter Há, and thus they have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months…and when they end–these days of giving that precede the season of restraint–let them enter upon the Fast. Thus hath it been ordained by Him Who is the Lord of all mankind.”
As in His prayer for Ayyám-i-Há, Bahá’u’lláh juxtaposes these “days of giving” with the Fast’s “season of restraint.” Ayyám-i-Há is intended partly as spiritual preparation for the Fast, a reminder of its approach, and a way of fostering the detachment from material things so necessary for the Fast.
Ayyám-i-Há means the “Days of Há.” “Há” is the Arabic letter corresponding to the English “H”, and one of the three Arabic letters which make up the word “Bahá.” Both Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb followed the Arabic tradition of assigning numerical values to letters, and of giving spiritual meanings to both. The numerical value of “Há” is 5, the sum of the numerical values of the letters in the “Báb,” and the maximum number of intercalary days.
“Há” is also the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used in Arabic religious writings to refer to God, or “the Divine Essence.” “Há” by itself is used as a symbol of “the Essence of God,” and was the subject of many an Arabic essay on its mysteries. In Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet of All Food the realm “beyond which there is no passing,” or the realm of the Divine Essence is designated as “Háhut.” In the Báb’s interpretation of the letter “Há” (quoted by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Iqán), the Báb speaks of martyrdom in the path of God and warns “even if all the kings of the earth were to be leagued together they would be powerless to take from me a single letter…”
Bahá’u’lláh has designated the intercalary days “amid all the nights and days” as manifestations of the letter Há”–that is, as Days of the Divine Essence. These extra days stand apart from the ordinary cycle of weeks and months and the human measure of time. They are not “bounded by the limits of the year and its months”–just as the infinite reality of the divine Essence of God is unbounded and cannot be captured or comprehended within the cycle of time or any other human measurement.
Thus Ayyám-i-Há can be thought of as days outside of time, days that symbolize eternity, infinity, and the mystery and unknowable Essence of God Himself. Contemplation during these days of the timeless mystery of the Essence of God provides us the “joy and exultation” with which to “sing His praise and magnify His Name.”
*This article was (taken from an e-mail posting