Is the Universal House of Justice Authorized to Function without the Presence of the Guardian of the Cause as its "sacred head"?
In His Will, Abdu'l-Baha directed the Baha'is to “turn to” Shoghi Effendi (pp. 11, 26) and the Universal House of Justice (pp. 19, 26), and warned that anyone who turned away from either of them was turning away from God Himself (p. 11). He also provides that the Guardian of the Cause was to serve as “the sacred head and the distinguished member for life” of that Body. From the time immediately following the passing of `Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi was presented as the Head of the Universal House of Justice. His photograph was published in Star of the West in January 1922, captioned “Guardian of the Baha'i Cause and Head of the House of Justice.”
Photograph courtesy of Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette, Illinois Please click photograph for larger imageLikewise, in March of 1922 Shoghi Effendi wrote a letter in which he stated “'Abdu'l-Bahá in his testament has appointed me to be the head of the universal council which is to be duly elected by national councils representative of the followers of Bahá'u'lláh in different countries..." (Quoted in The Priceless Pearl, p. 49) From the beginning, Shoghi Effendi anticipated that the two institutions would function together, as Abdu'l-Baha provided in the First Part of His Will. However, it became apparent to Shoghi Effendi that conditions in the Baha'i community would not permit this, and he was divinely guided to postpone its election. As he wrote in 1923: “With these Assemblies, local as well as national, harmoniously, vigorously, and efficiently functioning throughout the Bahá'í world, the only means for the establishment of the Supreme House of Justice will have been secured. And when this Supreme Body will have been properly established, it will have to consider afresh the whole situation, and lay down the principle which shall direct, so long as it deems advisable, the affairs of the Cause.” (Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration, p. 40) Please note: He states that the Universal House of Justice must be “properly” established. Though the Will had provided that he would serve as a member of, and the Head of, the Universal House of Justice, he could not, and would not, allow it to be established other than as required by the spirit and meaning of the Will. He made this point again in a letter he wrote in 1929: “For upon the National Houses of Justice of the East and the West devolves the task, in conformity with the explicit provisions of the Will, of electing directly the members of the International House of Justice. Not until they are themselves fully representative of the rank and file of the believers in their respective countries, not until they have acquired the weight and the experience that will enable them to function vigorously in the organic life of the Cause, can they approach their sacred task, and provide the spiritual basis for the constitution of so august a body in the Bahá'í world.” (The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 7) Does anyone question that this decision of his was divinely guided? And yet, it meant that he functioned alone, not as Head of the House of Justice, as provided in the Will. It is significant that Shoghi Effendi states that while he is postponing the election of the House of Justice this is not renunciation of the terms of the Will, but rather is faithfulness to its provisions—this is the only way of remaining “in conformity with the explicit provisions of the Will.” Although the Will anticipates these institutions functioning together, and does not expressly state that the Guardian could function alone and without the elected membership of the Universal House of Justice, no faithful Baha'i would claim that Shoghi Effendi was anything but scrupulously faithful to the Will, or that in the absence of the Universal House of Justice he lacked the divine guidance to carry out his function as Head of the Faith. In like manner, circumstances within the Cause have now made it impossible for the Universal House of Justice to function with the Guardian of the Cause present in its deliberations. When Shoghi Effendi functioned without the Universal House of Justice, he had no input at all from that divine institution, which had not yet been brought into being. Now, although the Guardian of the Cause is not present in its deliberations, the Universal House of Justice has a vast body of Shoghi Effendi's written guidance. Even a cursory glance at any of the instruments of divine guidance flowing from the Universal House of Justice shows how utterly and faithfully it relies on the Institution of the Guardianship. An analogy to the carrying out of the provisions of the Will and Testament of Baha'u'llah is apposite. In The Book of the Covenant, Baha'u'llah provided for Abdu'l-Baha, then known as The Most Mighty Branch, to serve as Head of the Faith after Him, and to be succeeded by His younger half-brother, Mirza Muhammad-`Ali, known as “The Greater Branch.” The provisions for the successorship in the Faith in Baha'u'llah's Will and Testament are: “The Will of the divine Testator is this: It is incumbent upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and My Kindred to turn, one and all, their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch. Consider that which We have revealed in Our Most Holy Book: 'When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.' The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [Abdu'l-Bahá]. Thus have We graciously revealed unto you Our potent Will, and I am verily the Gracious, the All-Powerful. Verily God hath ordained the station of the Greater Branch [Muhammad Ali] to be beneath that of the Most Great Branch [Abdu'l-Bahá]. He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Wise. We have chosen 'the Greater' after 'the Most Great', as decreed by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.” (The Kitab-i-`Ahd,Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp. 221-222) Baha'u'llah designates the Greater Branch to serve as the Head of the Faith “after” the Most Great Branch. However, circumstances prevented this. Mirza Muhammad-`Ali broke the Covenant, so this provision of the Will and Testament of Baha'u'llah never came into being. Shoghi Effendi speaks of the Covenants of Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha as "twin Covenants", and Their Wills as one Will. After the Ascension of Abdu'l-Baha, these two Documents were found wrapped together as one, among Abdu'l-Baha's possessions. By analogy, Abdu'l-Baha directed Shoghi Effendi to designate a successor Guardian—either his eldest son, or another Branch from among the male descendants of Baha'u'llah. Because Covenant-breaking had infected every male in the holy family, Shoghi Effendi, remaining scrupulously faithful to every provision of the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, was unable to make such an appointment. The fact that Mirza Muhammad-`Ali had been faithless to the Will and Testament of Baha'u'llah, did not mean that his not serving as the Head of the Faith after Abdu'l-Baha was a breach of the provisions of Baha'u'llah's Covenant. When describing the violations of the Covenant of Baha'u'llah by Mirza Muhammad-`Ali, Abdu'l-Baha did not expressly say, "This provision of the Kitab-i-`Ahd is no longer operative," nor did He explain how a provision made by Baha'u'llah Himself could remain unfulfilled. He explained that Mirza Muhammad-`Ali had broken the Covenant, and that in accordance with another Tablet of Baha'u'llah, Mirza Muhammad-`Ali had been cast out of the Cause. He states that this was consistent with the exact Text and required by faithfulness to the Covenant of Baha'u'llah: "Now, that the true Faith of God may be shielded and protected, His Law guarded and preserved and His Cause remain safe and secure, it is incumbent upon everyone to hold fast unto the Text of the clear and firmly established blessed verse, revealed about him." (The Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 5) The "clear and firmly established blessed verse" was from a different Tablet of Baha'u'llah. In like manner, the fact that all of the surviving Aghsan had broken the Covenant, resulting in Shoghi Effendi's inability to name a successor Guardian—a fact attested to by all of the Hands of the Cause including Mason Remey—did not mean that the absence of a successor Guardian was a breach of the provisions Abdu'l-Baha's Covenant. It was not lack of faithfulness, but strict adherence to the provisions of the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, that led Shoghi Effendi to not appoint a successor Guardian. In both instances, regarding the carrying out of the provisions of successorship in the Will of Baha'u'llah and that of Abdu'l-Baha, it was the faithlessness of the Aghsan that led to this circumstance. And, in both instances, the successor who thereafter led the Faith was divinely guided. Instead of Mirza Muhammad-Ali, Shoghi Effendi led the Faith for 36 years; and without the presence of a successor Guardian, the Universal House of Justice has led the Faith for 46 years as of this writing. Shoghi Effendi emphasized the centrality of both of these divinely-ordained institutions, describing the Institution of Guardianship as the "head cornerstone" of the Administrative Order, and the Universal House of Justice as the "apex" of the Administrative Order, as its "dome, the final unit crowning the entire edifice." He emphasized the greatness of the Institution of the Guardianship, referring to it as "the pivot of Abdu'l-Baha's Will and Testament," and the Universal House of Justice as "that central pivot of the people of Baha." (Letter dated 30 October 1924 to the Spiritual Assembly of Tihran, translated from Persian; Baha'i World Vol. XIV, p. 436; Compilation on Establishment of the Universal House of Justice) These Spiritual Assemblies have been primarily constituted to carry out these affairs, and secondly to lay a perfect and strong foundation for the establishment of the divine and Universal House of Justice. When that central pivot of the people of Baha shall be effectively, majestically and firmly established, a new era will dawn, heavenly bounties and graces will pour out from that Source, and the all-encompassing promises will be fulfilled. (Ibid.) Just as Shoghi Effendi had to serve his entire 36-year ministry without the benefit of the "dome" of the Administrative Order, the presence of the "no less essential institution" of the Universal House of Justice; the Universal House of Justice must now function without the presence of the Guardian of the Cause as its “sacred head,” and there is provision in the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha for it to do so. He spoke of these institutions as "inseparable" at that time, even before the Universal House of Justice came into being; and it is no less true of these "twin institutions" today. In neither situation, however, is the Master's promise of the divine guidance flowing from both the Bab and Baha'u'llah to these sacred institutions, affected, as each of these institutions is independently promised that guidance; and both of them have demonstrated, by their spirit and by their deeds, that they receive it. As the body Shoghi Effendi spoke of as "the divinely ordained, the Supreme House of Justice" has written: “Whereas he obviously envisaged their functioning together, it cannot logically be deduced from this that one is unable to function in the absence of the other. During the whole thirty-six years of his Guardianship Shoghi Effendi functioned without the Universal House of Justice. Now the Universal House of Justice must function without the Guardian, but the principle of inseparability remains. The Guardianship does not lose its significance nor position in the Order of Bahá'u'lláh merely because there is no living Guardian. We must guard against two extremes: one is to argue that because there is no Guardian all that was written about the Guardianship and its position in the Bahá'í World Order is a dead letter and was unimportant; the other is to be so overwhelmed by the significance of the Guardianship as to underestimate the strength of the Covenant, or to be tempted to compromise with the clear texts in order to find somehow, in some way, a Guardian." ("The Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice," letter dated 27 May 1966, Messages from The Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, Paragraph 35.9, p. 87) "The fact that Shoghi Effendi did not leave a will cannot be adduced as evidence of his failure to obey Bahá'u'lláh -- rather should we acknowledge that in his very silence there is a wisdom and a sign of his infallible guidance. We should ponder deeply the writings that we have, and seek to understand the multitudinous significances that they contain. Do not forget that Shoghi Effendi said two things were necessary for a growing understanding of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: the passage of time and the guidance of the Universal House of Justice." (From a letter dated 27 May 1966, Messages from The Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, Paragraph 35.3, p. 84)