(Summary: There are Americans with no family relationship whatever, who have claimed to be the hereditary successor to the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, Who was Persian; and also claim to be the appointed Interpreter of its Holy Writ. Lacking knowledge of the languages in which the Baha'i Writings were revealed--Writings they claim to be the divinely-guided Interpreters of--they base their claim to the hereditary position on a mistaken understanding of an Arabic word. The effect of their grievous misinterpretation of the Baha'i Teachings would be to open up this hereditary position to any pretender with no familial relationship to the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith.)
During the ministries of Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha They gave the title “Ghusn,” an Arabic word meaning “Branch” (plural Aghsan or Branches) to certain of the male descendants of the Manifestation of God, and to no one else. Abdu'l-Baha was designated the Ghusn-i-'Azam, The Most Mighty Branch. Mirza Muhammad-Ali was designated the Ghusn-i-Akbar, the Greater Branch. Mirza Mihdi was designated the Ghusn-i-Athar, the Purest Branch. Shoghi Effendi was designated the Ghusn-i-Mumtaz, the Chosen Branch. While not all of them had an individual designation, collectively all of the male descendants of the Manifestation of God were known as Aghsan, “Branches,” the plural of Ghusn. No one, absolutely no one else in the Baha'i world, was known as a “Ghusn” or counted among the “Aghsan.” This was, and remains, a matter of crystal clarity.
In various of His addresses and Tablets in the Persian tongue, Abdu'l-Baha expresses the general principle of the unity of humanity by stating that all human beings are leaves and branches of one tree. Unable to read the original languages they claim to be the infallible interpreters of, various claimants to the Guardianship have pointed out that since everyone is included in Abdu'l-Baha's designation of "fruits" and "branches" of one tree, everyone is eligible to be appointed as Guardian of the Cause! When they claim that since Shoghi Effendi stated that future translations of the Will and Testament should be based on his English translation of that Document, they attempt to use this to erase the requirement in the Will and Testament that the “hereditary office of Guardianship” can only be held by one who is a male descendant of Baha'u'llah. They attempt to confuse a matter that is not open to discussion. That is, when Abdu'l-Baha says in Persian that all human beings are branches, the word for “branches” is an entirely different word, conveying an entirely different concept, from the Arabic honorific “Ghusn” given to the male lineage of the Manifestation. Infallible interpreter, indeed!
As I mention above, the matter is not open to discussion. In a number of passages in his writings, Shoghi Effendi specifies that the Guardianship is a hereditary institution. For example, he writes that the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha “establishes the institution of the Guardianship as a hereditary office.” (God Passes By, p. 327; see also p. 328, and The World Order of Baha'u'llah, pp. 148, 153, 154)
This requirement is so clear that the effort to challenge it is laughable. This hereditary requirement is implicit in the provisions in the Most Holy Book for the “Branches” to serve as the Head of the Faith. In paragraph 121 of the Most Holy Book, Baha'u'llah directs the Baha'is to turn to “Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root,” and in paragraph 174 He appoints as the Interpreter of the Book “Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.” (Italics added). In another important passage, Paragraph 42 of the Most Holy Book, Baha'u'llah writes:
“Endowments dedicated to charity revert to God, the Revealer of Signs. None hath the right to dispose of them without leave from Him Who is the Dawning-place of Revelation. After Him, this authority shall pass to the Aghsan, and after them to the House of Justice...”
Just as Baha'u'llah had written in His own Will that He had chosen the Greater Branch “after” the Most Great Branch; He writes here that “after” the Manifestation, i.e. after he ascends from this world, the authority in the Faith will reside with the “Aghsan”, obviously the chosen, the line of appointed Branches. He then states that “after” the Aghsan—implying an end to the line of Chosen Branches, i.e. an end of the line of Guardians—the authority will pass to the Universal House of Justice. This passage clearly implies that the House of Justice would function in this world without one of the Chosen Aghsan as its sacred head.
The hereditary requirement is also demonstrated by the requirement of Abdu'l-Baha that Shoghi Effendi was to appoint as his successor the first-born of his "lineal descendants" or “another branch”—another ghusn—to succeed him. (The Will and Testament, pp. 11-12) Both require an appointment to be made from within the family of the Manifestation.
There was never any doubt that Shoghi Effendi could not designate anyone but a male descendant of Baha'u'llah as his successor Guardian. Shoghi Effendi's secretary wrote on his behalf,
"The term Afnan means literally small branch, and refers to the relatives of the Báb, both men and women. As the Báb's only son died while in infancy, the former had no direct descendants. The Afnan are, therefore, all indirectly related to the Báb. As to Aghsan, it also means branch. But is a bigger branch than Afnan. It refers to Bahá'u'lláh's descendants."
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, September 25, 1934; Lights of Guidance, p. 470, #1548)
This letter expressly confirms Shoghi Effendi's statement that the Guardianship is a hereditary office, that could only be held by a descendant of Baha'u'llah. Some self-seeking souls, entirely unrelated to the family of the Manifestation of God, have tried to claim otherwise because they suppose themselves to be 'branches'. Likewise, to state that the spiritual requirements of the Guardianship are more important than the physical requirement to be a male descendant of Baha'u'llah, is entirely beside the point, and is merely to engage in sowing confusion.
As the Hands of the Cause of God wrote to the Baha'i world in October of 1960, after Mason Remey had claimed that the requirement of "branch" did not limit the potential successor to a male descendant of Baha'u'llah:
“The ordinary English usage of the word 'branch' has caused a great deal of confusion, whereas there is not a shadow of ambiguity in the Persian and Arabic texts. Because of ignorance of the Arabic and Persian languages and the use of these two terms in our Sacred Texts, spurious arguments have been put forth by those making the false claim that Shoghi Effendi could have appointed a successor other than a blood descendant of Bahá'u'lláh.”
(Ministry of the Custodians, p. 234)
This matter has been well settled for 50 years.