“There is, though, a great difference between this and previous Dispensations, for Bahá’u’lláh has written that this is ‘the Day which shall not be followed by night’ (“God Passes By”, p. 245). He has given us His Covenant which provides for a continuing centre of divine guidance in the world. The Bahá’í Faith has not lacked for ambitious men who would seize the reins of authority and distort the Faith for their own ends, but in every case they have broken themselves and dashed their hopes on the rock of the Covenant.” (14 January 1979, from a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
The strength, the incorruptibility of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant can be seen in the fact that each of the major incidents of covenant breaking has been instigated, not by an unremarkable, insignificant individual, but rather by some of the most prominent, influential persons in the community, yet they failed in their machinations.
The Founders of past dispensations, for reasons known only to God, did not leave explicit, written instructions regarding to whom their followers should turn for guidance, after the Manifestation was no longer physically present. It is true that Jesus said to Peter “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) and “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 18:16). But these statements, not written down until several decades after the crucifixion, were not explicit enough to prevent the Great Schism of 1054 when the eastern branch of Christianity separated from the church of Rome, nor to avert the Protestant reformation of the 16th century. The division of the Christian community, as the result of lack of a clear covenant, has resulted in a “night” of lack of unity, and even wars. The Thirty Years War of the 17th century, which was partly the result of conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, left millions dead. In more recent times, the decades long conflict between Protestant Northern Ireland and the Catholic Republic of Ireland, resulted in many thousands killed or maimed, and thousands more terrorized. If the destruction of wars, the suspicion and hatreds resulting from differences of religious beliefs, are not a spiritual night, then what is?
In the case of Islam, the Shia branch claims that Muhammad nominated Ali ibn Talib to be His successor, but this is not specified in the Qur’an, and Sunnis do not accept that account as valid. When Muhammad was dying, He asked for pen and paper so His Will could be written; but “Umar said, ‘Pain is deluding God’s Messenger; we have God’s Book, which is enough.'”(1) As the result of the lack of an explicit, written covenant naming Muhammad’s successor, the Muslim community as a whole was deprived of the inspired guidance (2) which Ali and his successor Imams could have provided. In recent times, there was the Iran-Iraq war, which could have been avoided if the entire Muslim community had been united.
By contrast, the Covenants of the Bab and of Baha’u’llah are so clear and unambiguous that even the most prominent and influential opponents have not been able to destroy the unity of the Baha’i community.
Although the Bab did not name a successor, He did not leave any doubt as to Whom His followers should turn after His martyrdom, even referring to Baha’u’llah by name. At Baha’u’llah’s suggestion, He did name Mirza Yahya as the titular head of the Babis, in order to divert attention from Baha’u’llah Himself.(5)
Shoghi Effendi describes Mirza Yahya as “cowardly and credulous”, “vain and flaccid”. He was “irremediably corrupted” by the “black-hearted scoundrel”(3) Siyyid Muhammad. Although his behavior was shameful and confusing to the Babis, still as the Bab’s nominee, he had some influence over that community. During his villainous career, he corrupted the texts of some of the Bab’s writings, he incited the murder of Dayyan, the “repository of the knowledge of God”(4), he claimed that he himself was “He Whom God will make manifest”, and , most shocking of all, he poisoned his noble, sacred Brother, the Manifestation of God.(6) As a result of this poisoning, Baha’u’llah came near death, and had a shaking hand the rest of His life. Consider how great the harm that would have befallen all humanity if Baha’u’llah’s life had been cut short.
In spite of the influence he had, in spite of his scheming over several decades, Mirza Yahya’s attempts to undermine the Bab’s covenant failed utterly. Many of his followers left him and pledged their loyalty to Baha’u’llah. It is significant that he lived twenty years after Baha’u’llah’s ascension, long enough to see “every hope he had so maliciously conceived reduced to naught.”(7)
The second example of a person in a position of influence who attempted to break the Covenant is the case of Abdu’l-Baha’s half-brother, Muhammad Ali. The son of Baha’u’llah’s second wife, given the title of “the Greater Branch (Ghusn-i-Akbar) by his Father, named in the Kitab-i-Ahd as second in rank only to Abdu’l-Baha, this perfidious man, consumed by a “soul festering jealousy”(8) toward Abdu’l-Baha, behaved in a way that “…agitated the minds and hearts of a vast proportion of the faithful throughout the East, eclipsed, for a time, the Orb of the Covenant, created an irreparable breach within the ranks of Bahá’u’lláh’s own kindred, sealed ultimately the fate of the great majority of the members of His family, and gravely damaged the prestige, though it never succeeded in causing a permanent cleavage in the structure, of the Faith itself.”(8)
Muhammad Ali changed the text of at least one tablet of Baha’u’llah to make it appear that Baha’u’llah was condemning the wicked deeds of Abdu’l-Baha.(9) He plotted to murder Abdu’l-Baha. He made repeated false allegations about Abdu’l-Baha to the Ottoman authorities, so that the Master came perilously closed to being exiled to a remote part of the Libyan desert. In addition, from 1892 to 1929, Muhammad Ali and his relatives occupied the mansion of Bahji, where Baha’u’llah’s tomb was located, and it was not until 1952 that the property surrounding the Shrine was finally owned, without hindrance, by the Baha’i community. (10)
In spite of the high rank Baha’u’llah granted him in His Will, notwithstanding his temporary success in dimming the light of the covenant, Muhammad Ali came to an ignominious end. The Guardian wrote:
[Muhammad Ali] “was stricken with paralysis which crippled half his body; lay bedridden in pain for months before he died; and was buried according to Muslim rites, in the immediate vicinity of a local Muslim shrine, his grave remaining until the present day (1944) devoid of even a tombstone—a pitiful reminder of the hollowness of the claims he had advanced, of the depths of infamy to which he had sunk, and of the severity of the retribution his acts had so richly merited.” (11)
It is significant that Muhammad Ali, who died in 1937, lived long enough to see his hopes for leadership dashed, his plotting totally vanquished.
If the Covenants of the Bab and of Baha’u’llah had been challenged by minor individuals of little influence, an objective observer might say that their failure proved nothing, since those opponents were weak and of no consequence. Instead what we see is that the Covenant has been challenged, indeed the Manifestation and the Center of the Covenant were threatened with death, not by insignificant persons, but by the nominee of the Bab Himself and by the one named in Baha’u’llah’s Will as next in rank after Abdu’l-Baha. This is conclusive proof that this sacred Covenant is incorruptible. As Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“Despite the blows leveled at its nascent strength, whether by the wielders of temporal and spiritual authority from without, or by black-hearted foes from within, the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh had, far from breaking or bending, gone from strength to strength, from victory to victory.” (12)
(1) Six Lessons on Islam. Marzieh. Gail, p. 11
(2) Marzieh Gail told this writer that Shoghi Effendi had told her that the Imams were Guardians.
(3) God Passes By, pp. 111-113
(4) God Passes By p. 124
(5) The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, Adib Taherzadeh p. 61
(6) God Passes By, pp. 163-182
(7) God Passes By, p. 233
(8) God Passes By, p. 246
(9) The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, Adib Taherzadeh p. 153
(10) The Priceless Pearl, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, p. 231-233
(11) God Passes By p. 319-320
(12) God Passes By p. 409