Spiritual and Physical Requirements for the Guardian of the Cause of God

In His Will and Testament, Abdu'l-Baha formally establishes the Institution of the Guardianship, and on page 11 of that document designates Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Cause of God. 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 "establishes the institution of the Guardianship as a hereditary office." (God Passes By, p. 327) This is in keeping with the statement of Abdu'l-Baha that Shoghi Effendi was to designate the first-born of his "lineal descendants" (The Will and Testament, p. 11) Abdu'l-Baha specifies certain spiritual qualities that must be possessed by the successor Guardian, and states that if the first-born son of Shoghi Effendi did not possess these qualities, then Shoghi Effendi must select another of Baha'u'llah's male descendants: "Thus, should the first-born of the Guardian of the Cause of God ... not inherit of the spiritual within him (the Guardian of the Cause of God) and his glorious lineage not be matched with a goodly character, then must he, (the Guardian of the Cause of God) choose another branch to succeed him." (The Will and Testament, p. 12) The Arabic word here translated as "branch" is ghusn, the plural of which is Aghsan. These words were not applied to anyone but the male descendants of Baha'u'llah. 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 himself wrote, through his secretary, "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 that they hold the office of Guardianship. This is sheer sophistry. To hold this view is to entirely ignore the requirement that the Guardianship is a "hereditary office." 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 without support in the Baha'i Writings, and is merely to engage in sowing confusion.


  1. Brent,

    I subscribed to your blog last week. I love it. I'm currently wading through the archives. Thank you for taking on a subject which I would describe as the most potent, delicate, and vital issue for Baha'is of every generation and background to deepen upon, one which few are willing to discuss, especially with such clarity, frankness, and authority, basing every point directly on the Words of the Divine Figures and the Institutions who serve as the Sources and Focal Points of the Covenant.

    I hope that as you continue to expand on various themes related to the Covenant you discuss some more the role of the Aghsan and physical lineage in religion, as this is a mystery that has fascinated me. Of course, this only so far as would be proper

  2. Jalal I would like to ask for clarification. Are you asking a general question about the role of hereditary successorship in religion in general? I am not a scholar of religion. As far as the institution of the Imamate in Islam, a few sources come to mind. There are a few statements in the writings of Shoghi Effendi about it. Marzieh Gail in her Six Lessons on Islam and Dawn Over Mount Hira probably have something; Moojan Momen undoubtedly has a good deal on the subject in his book An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, and Mr. Balyuzi has material in his book Muhammad and the Course of Islam. Mr. Faizi wrote a lovely little booklet titled Husayn, about the Imam Husayn which is cogent and very interesting. Mr. Taherzadeh in Child of the Covenant wrote about the Aghsan and how each of them went astray; I don't know of anything more in Baha'i literature about them. Shoghi Effendi in the "Dispensation" letter quotes Abdu'l-Baha talking about the important role of the eldest son, and that even Prophethood has been the birthright of the eldest son. That is a phrase excerpted from a Tablet of the Master on the subject of wills and hereditary matters in people's personal estates--not about the divine institutions, but it was relevant to the Guardian's purpose and he quoted it. I will at some point mention briefly how the Aghsan failed the human race by disobeying the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, though they were the first ones called on in both the Will of Baha'u'llah and the Will of Abdu'l-Baha to be obedient; they were the first parties to the Covenant. One other thing that comes to mind is that in Shi'i Islam there is a certain tax that is imposed, the Khums (one-fifth), parallel to the Right of God in the Baha'i Faith, and it supports the siyyids -- the male lineage from the Prophet Muhammad. In the Kitab-i-Ahd Baha'u'llah says that the Aghsan should be shown respect but they have no right to the money of others, thereby depriving them of this source of income. Those are the sources I know of. The unfortuante thing in the Baha'i Faith is that the only faithful Aghsan were Abdu'l-Baha, his son who died at the age of 3, and Shoghi Effendi; the others are a study in disobedience. What are you interested in?

  3. Sorry, I forgot to check the box to get replies sent to my email. I was referring to the role of the Aghsan and Afnan as described by the Bab, Abdu'l-Baha and Baha'u'llah, as well as the spiritual realities motivating the creation of that role. Why the sons? Why the eldest son? What is their significance and purpose?

  4. Dear Jalal: The Aghsan and the Afnan are different in several respects. Geoffrey Marks compiled a wonderful book, "Call to Remembrance," and the Glossary to that book was approved at the World Centre. The glossary entry for "Afnan" states that they are the descendants of the three maternal uncles of the Bab, and the descendants of the two brothers of the wife of the Bab. You will recall that the Bab and his wife had one child, a boy who died in infancy; so the Afnan are not the descendants of the Bab, but they are descended from the closest relatives of the Bab and of the Bab's wife Katurah. The Afnan are both men and women. There are undoubtedly Tablets about the Afnan; you would do well to contact some of the Persian friends to ask. You could be put in touch with some believers who are Afnan, they would know. Ask around. As far as the Aghsan being candidates for the Guardianship I do not know why only the male and not the female lineage were eligible; the only thing I can refer you to is the Master's Tablets mentioning the eldest son at the bottom of this page http://tinyurl.com/soneldest . Shoghi Effendi quotes from one of these Tablets in connection with the Institution of Guardianship on p. 148 of The World Order of Baha'u'llah. I do not know of any other Baha'i book, authoritative or commentary, that discusses the subject of primogeniture in spiritual matters more fully; I regret that I am not knowledgeable on the subject and I am unable to respond to your interesting questions.


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