The Divine Covenant

“So powerful is the light of unity,” Bahá’u’lláh declared, “that it can illuminate the whole earth.”1 “We, verily,” He further stated, “have come to unite and weld together all that dwell on earth.”2 Bahá’u’lláh made the oneness of humankind the central principle and goal of His Faith, an emphasis that implies the organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations and that signalizes the “coming of age of the entire human race.”3

Humanity’s evolution has been marked by such progressive stages of social organization as family, tribe, city-state and nation. Bahá’u’lláh’s express purpose was to usher in the next and ultimate stage, namely, world unity–the harbinger of the Great Peace foretold in the world’s religions. As the Word of God, as revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, is the source and impetus of the oneness of humankind, so the Covenant He has established is the organizing principle for its realization.

A Covenant implies a solemn agreement between two parties. As already noted, Bahá’u’lláh’s part of His Covenant is to bring us teachings that transform both the inner and outer conditions of life on earth, to provide us with an authoritative interpreter to keep us from misunderstanding God’s will for us, and to give us guidance to establish institutions that will pursue the goals of the achievement of unity. Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant affects us at all levels of existence, from our social organizations to our individual lives.

As individuals, we in turn have the responsibility to observe the laws God has given to us to safeguard our dignity and to enable us to become the noble beings He created us to be–to pray, to meditate, to read the Sacred Writings, to fast, to live chaste lives, to be trustworthy. It is our responsibility to show love towards each other, as imperfect as we may be; and it is our obligation to love and obey the institutions Bahá’u’lláh brought into being. Unless we do these things, we do not open ourselves to the benefits of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant with us.

Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant guarantees both unity of understanding of His fundamental doctrines and the actualization of that unity in the Bahá’í community’s spiritual and social development. It is distinguished by its provision for authentic interpretation of the sacred texts and for an authorized system of administration, at the apex of which is an elected legislative body empowered to supplement the laws revealed by Bahá’u’lláh.

This Covenant is the most remarkable feature of His Revelation, for, unlike any religious system of the past, it is designed to preserve the unity of all humanity through the organic workings of a social order based on spiritual principles. “So firm and mighty” is this Covenant, Bahá’u’lláh’s son `Abdu’l-Bahá has affirmed, “that from the beginning of time until the present day, no religious Dispensation hath produced its like.”4

The Bahá’í Faith is thus the first religion in history that has survived its critical first century with its unity firmly established. While issues of succession and leadership within the Bahá’í Faith are addressed by Bahá’u’lláh in His Covenant, its significance is far more encompassing. As He says, “The aim of this Wronged One in sustaining woes and tribulations, in revealing the Holy Verses and in demonstrating proofs hath been naught but to quench the flame of hate and enmity, that the horizon of the hearts of men may be illumined with the light of concord and attain real peace and tranquillity.”5

“Conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book,” Bahá’u’lláh asserted, emphasizing the importance of harmony in human relationships. And He further addresses His followers with these words: “O Servants! Let not the means of order be made the cause of confusion and the instrument of union an occasion for discord.”6

The Centre of the Covenant

It is in the pursuit of such aims and injunctions that Bahá’u’lláh appointed His Son `Abdu’l-Bahá as His successor: “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended,” He wrote in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, His Book of Laws, “turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.”7 In His Will and Testament, known as The Book of the Covenant, Bahá’u’lláh further explained that, “The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [`Abdu’l-Bahá].”8

This appointment invested `Abdu’l-Bahá with authority as the sole interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings and as the executor of Bahá’u’lláh’s purpose in the establishment of the Bahá’í administrative order. In His personal life, His words, and His deeds, `Abdu’l-Bahá was the perfect exemplar of the qualities and ideals of Bahá’í living. The combination of these functions in one person gave rise to a unique office in religious history–Centre of the Covenant–and makes `Abdu’l-Bahá an unparalleled figure in all of history.

The explicitness of Bahá’u’lláh’s written appointment of His Son and the elaborations of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s station were meant to prevent any misunderstanding among the faithful as to the leadership of the community after Bahá’u’lláh’s passing. These provisions by the Manifestation of God Himself, in and of themselves, demonstrate an exceptional aspect of the Bahá’í Revelation.

The Administrative Order

The existence of a divine pattern for the continuous administration and development of the Bahá’í Faith is as important to the definition of Bahá’í belief as the spiritual and social doctrines of Bahá’u’lláh. The Bahá’í administrative order is a tangible expression of the covenant made between Bahá’u’lláh and His followers. `Abdu’l-Bahá gave significant attention to delineating the administrative system conceived by Bahá’u’lláh and in His Will and Testament specified the responsibilities and functions and the powers and authority of particularly of the two institutions that would succeed him, thus providing for continuity in the unity of the Bahá’í Faith. The twin institutions at the apex of the administrative order are the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice.

.In the same manner as He had Himself been appointed by Bahá’u’lláh as Centre of the Covenant, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá designated His grandson Shoghi Effendi as Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. “For he is, after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the guardian of the Cause of God… and the beloved of the Lord must obey him and turn unto him” is the explicit language in The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.9 To the Guardian was given the role of authoritative interpreter, and he was charged with the further expansion of the Bahá’í world community along the lines previously revealed by Bahá’u’lláh and elaborated by `Abdu’l-Bahá.

One of Shoghi Effendi’s chief goals was the development of the community to the point where it could sustain the Universal House of Justice, the elected international council ordained by Bahá’u’lláh. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, through the provisions of His Will and Testament, showed how its aims and purposes were to be complementary to those of the Guardianship.

Through the 36 years of the Guardian’s ministry, the Bahá’í community remained unified, grew rapidly, and spread over vast regions of the globe, gradually erecting the local, national, and international institutions that constitute the Bahá’í administrative order. Eventually, conditions necessary for the establishment of the Universal House of Justice were fulfilled, five and a half years after the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957.

The first election of this institution in 1963 by the members of 56 National Spiritual Assemblies not only initiated a new stage in the evolution of the administrative order, it also marked the first time in history that an international governing body of this character had been brought into existence by a democratic election devoid of campaigning or nominations, in the manner of all Bahá’í elections. Since then, the number of National Spiritual Assemblies has increased more than threefold.

Regarding the duties of members of the Universal House of Justice, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote,

It is incumbent upon these members to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. And inasmuch as this House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same.10

Thus, through the definite arrangements made by Bahá’u’lláh and amplified by `Abdu’l-Bahá, the Covenant has remained and remains inviolate; the channel of divine guidance, which provides flexibility in all the affairs of mankind, has stayed open through the time of `Abdu’l-Bahá, that of Shoghi Effendi, and subsequently through the years since the election of the Universal House of Justice, which was founded by Bahá’u’lláh and endowed by Him with supreme authority and unfailing guidance and of which `Abdu’l-Bahá wrote: “Unto this body all things must be referred.”11

Shoghi Effendi expressed this view about the Covenant in a letter written on his behalf by his secretary:

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. First is the Covenant that every Prophet makes with humanity or, more definitely, with His people that they will accept and follow the coming Manifestation Who will be the reappearance of His reality.12 The second form of Covenant is such as the one Bahá’u’lláh made with His people that they should accept the Master [‘Abdu’l-Bahá]. 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…13

As humanity comes of age, the peoples of the world are awakening to the fact of their oneness and to the vision of the earth as a single homeland. The spiritual authority of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant provides us with a framework for healing past differences, whether of race, class, or creed, and establishes a new kind of relationship between us and our Creator. The moral empowerment that comes to us through this divine bestowal will enable us, for the first time in human history, to build a unified global society.

  1. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983), p. 288.
  2. Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988), p. 24.
  3. Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980), p. 117.
  4. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991), p. 136.
  5. Bahá’u’lláh, “Kitáb-i-Ahd,” in Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), p. 219.
  6. , p. 222.
  7. Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1992), p. 63.
  8. “Kitáb-i-Ahd,” p. 221.
  9. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1971), p. 25.
  10. , p. 20.
  11. , p. 14.
  12. Bahá’u’lláh states that a Manifestation will come no less than 1000 years after Him.
  13. From a letter from the Guardian to an individual, 21 October 1932.

* Adapted from Bahá’í Topics, an information resource produced by the Bahá’í International Community.