|On 28 November 1921,
`Abdu'l-Bahá passed away peacefully in His sleep. Like His father, `Abdu'l-Bahá was
concerned with the potential for religious schism after His passing. So He, too, left a
clear and explicit will and testament--an extension of the Covenant established by
In that document, `Abdu'l-Bahá
appointed His oldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, to succeed Him as Guardian of the
Bahá'í Faith. The Guardianship was an institution anticipated by Bahá'u'lláh.
In this office, Shoghi Effendi was the authoritative
interpreter of the Bahá'í teachings.
Born in Acre on 1 March 1897, Shoghi Effendi spent much of
his early childhood at `Abdu'l-Bahá's knee. He attended the American University in
Beirut, and then Oxford University in England--which gave him a superb knowledge of the
English language and of Western culture.
During Shoghi Effendi's ministry, the Bahá'í Faith became a
truly global religion. At the time of `Abdu'l-Bahá's passing;in 1921, there were 100,000
Bahá'ís. Most were Iranian, and most lived in Iran or other countries in the Middle
East. A handful of followers lived in India, Europe, and North America--about 35 countries
in all. Some 36 years later, by the time of Shoghi Effendi's passing in 1957, there were
about 400,000 Bahá'ís, and they resided in more than 250 countries, territories and
The letters of Shoghi Effendi also developed guidelines for
the system of elections and group decision-making that has become one of the Bahá'í Faith's distinguishing features. He
wrote letters to fledgling Bahá'í institutions that explained the implications of
Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on issues ranging from family life to world government. He
elaborated on the relationship of the Bahá'í Faith to other religions and doctrines. His
lucid and incisive writings further helped to clarify the distinctive Bahá'í views on
matters of ethics, theology and history.
Perhaps most important, insofar as the growth of the Bahá'í
Faith is concerned, Shoghi Effendi's letters to the Bahá'í world provided a continuing
source of encouragement and support. Although the Bahá'í Faith today enjoys wide
respect, to become a Bahá'í in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s was to expose oneself to
suspicion and ridicule.
Shoghi Effendi's clear vision of the Bahá'í Faith as God's
revelation to our age, and his certainty of its ultimate triumph, helped to invigorate a
generation of believers who, though few in number, were responsible for having spread
Bahá'u'lláh's message to every corner of the globe.
The Universal House of
By the time of Shoghi Effendi's passing in 1957,
the Faith had established the necessary broad base of national and local Spiritual
Assemblies, thus permitting the election of the Universal House of Justice, the
international governing body envisioned by Bahá'u'lláh.
For Bahá'ís, the long-awaited establishment of the first
Universal House of Justice on 21 April 1963 represented an event of transcendent
importance. It had been conceived by Bahá'u'lláh, and invested by Him with the promise
that it would be infallibly guided by God in its decisions.
"Great is thy blessedness, O earth, for thou hast been made the
foot-stool of thy God, and been chosen as the seat of His mighty throne." --
The nine members chosen that year by secret ballot came from
four continents, represented three major religious backgrounds (Jewish, Christian, and
Muslim), and were of several different ethnic origins. Since that time, elections for the
Universal House of Justice have been held every five years. [See page
As the supreme institution of the Bahá'í Faith, the
Universal House of Justice took on the task of directing the growth and development of the
worldwide Bahá'í community. This was accomplished through a series of plans; each plan
ran for from five to nine years and outlined a series of goals for expansion and
In 1963, worldwide Bahá'í membership had reached 400,000.
Bahá'ís lived in 11,000 localities and were organized into 56 national and regional
communities. By 1992, there were some 5,000,000 Bahá'ís, residing in more than 116,000
localities, and organized into 165 national communities. continues