The Guardian

After the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Bahá’í community entered a new phase, evolving from that of a single individual to an administrative order founded on the “twin pillars” of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice.

This administrative order was originally envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh in his Book of Laws and was given further shape by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, particularly in His Will and Testament. In this document He appointed His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith and interpreter of its teachings and also referred to the future election of the Universal House of Justice, a legislative body of which the Guardian would be the “sacred head and the distinguished member for life.”1

The Universal House of Justice was not established in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s lifetime; it fell to the Guardian to lay the base for its foundation through the 36 years of his tenure as head of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. During these 36 years, the Guardian translated many of the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá into English, expounded their meanings, encouraged the establishment of local and national Bahá’í institutions, and guided a series of plans aimed at diffusing Bahá’í ideals.

Throughout these years, Shoghi Effendi educated the Bahá’í community about the administrative order of the Faith and prepared it for the eventual establishment of that order’s other central institution by writing consistently about the interconnection of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, both of which he describes as “divine in origin, essential in their functions and complementary in their aim and purpose.”2 He goes on to state that their common purpose is “to insure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of our Faith, to safeguard the unity of its followers and to maintain the integrity and flexibility of its teachings.”3 The institution of the Guardianship is Bahá’u’lláh’s means for providing for the continuation of the unerring interpretation of His word. The function of the Universal House of Justice, on the other hand, is to legislate upon matters “not expressly revealed in the Sacred Texts.”4 As Shoghi Effendi says, “Acting in conjunction with each other these two inseparable institutions administer [the Bahá’í Faith’s] affairs, coordinate its activities, promote its interests, execute its laws and defend its subsidiary institutions.”5

The interconnection of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice is further evidenced by the Guardian’s ceaseless labouring to foster the expansion of the Bahá’í community around the world in order to establish and develop the national legislative bodies of the administrative order; the goal of this work was the election of the Universal House of Justice and the full development, in all aspects, of the order ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.

While the Guardianship was outlined as a hereditary institution, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will and Testament provided for the possibility of a line of succession to His appointee as Guardian, Shoghi Effendi died without any heirs and without being able to appoint a successor, as no other members of his family met the stipulations that had been outlined by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The vitality of the Guardianship continues, however, through the voluminous writings, the extensive guidance, and other legacies left to the Bahá’í community from Shoghi Effendi’s ministry between 1921 and 1957.

One of the crucial and difficult tasks he was called upon to perform was the protection of the young Faith from enemies from both outside and within its ranks. He also served as the sole authoritative interpreter and expounder of its teachings; he erected the administrative order of the Faith; he prosecuted global plans for the worldwide expansion of the Bahá’í Faith, as outlined in the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; he translated volumes of the Faith’s sacred writings from their original Persian and Arabic into English, which subsequently served as the standard for further translations into other languages; he wrote a history of the first century of the Faith; and he developed and beautified the properties at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa and Akká. These are the major tangible legacies of the Guardianship, but perhaps as important as any of these was the way Shoghi Effendi inspired ordinary people to arise and do extraordinary things. In much the same way that a general marshals his troops to battle, he wrote numerous letters to the Bahá’í communities, large and small, all over the world and called them to greater service to their Faith and to humanity.

He safeguarded the unity of the Faith by acting, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá before him had acted, as the authoritative interpreter and expounder of the Bahá’í sacred writings. All questions regarding interpretation were to be directed to him. Although he did not have the authority to alter in any way what Bahá’u’lláh or ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had revealed, he performed the crucial tasks of clarifying points which may not have been clearly understood and of elaborating upon previously revealed teachings. To this end, he wrote thousands of letters to individual believers and to Bahá’í communities around the world. Through such guidance, the Bahá’ís remained unified in their clear understanding of the Faith’s sacred writings.

Shoghi Effendi greatly advanced the development of the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa. He arranged for the construction of a superstructure over the tomb of the Báb; he beautified and expanded the gardens surrounding the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh outside Akká; he constructed the International Bahá’í Archives on Mount Carmel, where the tablets and relics of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh were to be appropriately housed and displayed for Bahá’í pilgrims. All of this work was undertaken to create an atmosphere appropriate to the spiritual and administrative centre of a world religion. As head of this religion, the Guardian also conducted activities related to the external affairs of the Faith and its World Centre.

Shoghi Effendi translated the Bahá’í writings from the language in which they were revealed–either Persian or Arabic–into a majestic style of English. As builder of the administrative order, Shoghi Effendi took the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that concerned the establishment of Bahá’í institutions that would administer the affairs of the community and developed a plan to bring them into being. Undertaking even one of the various facets of his work was a Herculean task; that the Guardian accomplished the vast number of objectives he set in so many different areas over a 36-year period is astounding. His widow, Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, expresses it this way:

The Guardian had fused in the alembic of his creative mind all the elements of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh into one great indivisible whole; he had created an organized community of His followers which was the receptacle of His teachings, His laws and His Administrative Order; the teachings of the twin Manifestations of God and the Perfect Exemplar had been woven into a shining cloak that would clothe and protect man for a thousand years, a cloak on which the fingers of Shoghi Effendi had picked out the patterns, knitted the seams, fashioned the brilliant protective clasps of his interpretations of the Sacred Texts, never to be sundered, never to be torn away until that day when a new Law-giver comes to the world and once again wraps His creature man in yet another divine garment.6

  1. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1968), p. 14
  2. Shoghi Effendi, “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh,” in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, Selected Letters, 2nd rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 148.
  3. The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1972), p. 5.
  4. “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh,” p. 148.
  5. Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969), p. 436.

*Adapted from “The Bahá’í World” website, official site of the Bahá’í International Community,

  • Bil Malti