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How did the Hands of the Cause protect the Baha’i Faith after the passing of Shoghi Effendi?

The death of Shoghi Effendi was a great shock to Baha’is around the world. In addition, the community had to cope with the fact that Shoghi Effendi had been unable to appoint a successor and had not left a will or other written instructions. As the Universal House of Justice later observed, “appalling dangers…faced the infant Cause when it was suddenly deprived of. . . Shoghi Effendi.” Yet the power of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant soon became evident. …following Shoghi Effendi’s passing, the Faith maintained its unity and integrity under the leadership, and through the historic services, of the Hands of the Cause of God: “The entire history of religion show no comparable record of such strict self-discipline, such complete loyalty and such complete self-abnegation by the leaders of a religion finding themselves suddenly deprived of their divinely inspired guide”.
Shahin Vafai, The Essence of the Covenant, p. 83-85

Haifa, Israel November 6, 1957

Ruhiyyih Khanum, telephoned me on the evening of November 4th, of the great calamity which had stricken the Bahá’í world, in the passing of our dearly beloved Guardian, in London, during the early morning hours of November 4th.

During our conversation it was decided I would remain in Haifa and take all precautions to protect the Holy Places, the Guardian’s apartment, where all his records were kept, and the Faith from attack by the enemies of the Faith here.

The following actions were taken:

1. The Guardian’s apartment and office had been locked, so no one could enter it during his absence. We assured ourselves that it was carefully locked, and barriers were placed in front of the door so no one could enter. We then locked and put iron bars across the door to the entrance of the living quarters. These iron bars were padlocked. All the keys to the apartment were then sealed in an envelope, which envelope was signed by Sylvia Ioas Jessie Revell, Ethel Revell and Leroy Ioas and placed in the safe of my office, in such a way that if the envelope was tampered with in any way, it would be seen immediately.

We then arranged for the Guardian’s trusted servant to sleep outside the doors of the apartment and office; likewise another trusted servant to sleep at the foot of the steps, so no one could gain access to the area.

During the daytime, we maintained extra Bahá’ís in the building, so no access could be gained.

2. The Shrine of Bahá’u'lláh was guarded night and day, and one of the Bahá’ís slept in the Shrine each night.

3. The same action was taken with regard to the Shrine of the Báb.

4. The same action was taken with regard to the Mansion at Bahji.

The sealing of the Guardian’s apartment and office was done in the presence of the four members of the International Council here, who have signed this document, in attestation thereof.

The envelope in which the keys to the apartment were sealed, is attached.

Leroy C. Ioas

[Signed as follows]
Leroy Ioas
Sylvia Ioas
Ethel Revell
Jessie Revell

Ministry of the Custodians, p. 22

HANDS IN THE HOLY LAND OFFICIAL STATEMENT

Haifa, Israel November 19, 1957

Allah-u-Abha!

This morning immediately after 9:00 a.m. we, the five Hands of the Cause assigned to service at the World Centre of the Faith, Ruhiyyih Khanum, Mason Remey, Amelia E. Collins, Ugo Giachery, and Leroy Ioas as well as Hands of the Cause Hasan Balyuzi, a member of the Afnan family, Mr. Horace Holley, representing the believers of the Western Hemisphere, Musa Banani; representing the believers of the African continent, and Dr. ‘Ali-Muhammad Varqa Trustee of the beloved Guardian, representing also the Asian continent, (totaling to, ‘ the number of Baha) have met, in order to open the Guardian’s safe and desk [and] search for a Will and Testament if one was executed by Shoghi Effendi.

They found that the seals placed on the safe by the five Hands in the Holy Land were intact and untouched; and similarly the seals containing the keys to the safe were intact and untouched and similarly that the sealed desk was intact.

The undersigned nine Hands of the Cause, appointed by the first Guardian, Shoghi Effendi each in the presence of the others, do hereby individually and collectively certify to the following:

That the safe and desk have been opened and searched and the non existence of a Will and Testament executed by Shoghi Effendi was definitely established.

[Signed as follows]

Ruhiyyih
Mason Remey
Amelia E. Collins
Ugo Giachery
Leroy Ioas
Hasan M. Balyuzi
Horace Holley
M.B. [Musa Banani]
Dr. A. Vargha

Ministry of the Custodians, p. 27

When the appointed and much-loved Head of our Faith suddenly passed away on November 4, 1957 in London, [the Hands of the Cause] were twenty-seven in number, five women and twenty-two men, drawn from all continents of the globe, some of whom had never even met the Guardian personally, indeed, eight of us had only been appointed to the rank of Hand by Shoghi Effendi a few weeks prior to his death. Those of us of longer standing felt great compassion for this last contingent of our peers, who, in addition to the shock each one of us had experienced when we were elevated to this high position, were now faced with the additional shock of the realization that Shoghi Effendi was no longer there to guide them personally, that this door was closed forever. The eldest among us, Corinne True, one of the early group of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s disciples in America, was already 96; the youngest, Enoch Olinga, a native of Uganda, only 31;
Ruhiyyih Khanum, Ministry of the Custodians, p. xxiii

This video clip shows the role the Hands of the Cause played after the passing of Shoghi Effendi. It was taken from a 2007 tribute to Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Varqa.

The labours of the Hands of the Cause at the time of this unique crisis followed an unbroken pattern till the day the Universal House of Justice was elected on April 21, 1963. The Hands who had gathered in London met and, in spite of their shock and grief, decided not an instant’s time must be lost in holding a plenary meeting of our entire body at our World Centre in the Holy Land. This was called for November 18th. Our first act was to choose a delegation to open the apartment of Shoghi Effendi which had been sealed by the International Bahá’í Council right after his passing (in addition to being locked by him when we left Haifa, as was his usual custom) and to make an exhaustive search for any document he might have left — a Will or otherwise. There was no such thing to be found.

The general body of the Hands then met in the upper hall of the Mansion of Bahá’u'lláh at Bahji near His resting-place, for the first of their six Conclaves until the election of the Universal House of Justice took place. Of all our Conclaves — the only befitting term for such august gatherings — that first one was the most epoch-making. Not only were we dazed and grieving, we were orphans, deprived of our father. The responsibility for the entire Cause of God, to which each one of us was wholly consecrated, had been placed in our hands, with neither premonition, warning nor advice. Aside from the thought that we were now the only ones to direct the Bahá’ís of the world, to protect and guide them and to win the Crusade of our beloved Guardian, we were faced with problems of inconceivable magnitude. How to assume the reins of authority, with no document to support us, other than the general theological statements about the Hands? What should we do regarding money, urgently needed for the monthly upkeep of the Shrines, Holy Places, pilgrim houses, and gardens, and to pay not only these substantial recurring bills but continue to finance innumerable vital Bahá’í undertakings throughout the world which Shoghi Effendi himself had inaugurated and supported from his funds as Head of the Faith?

What was our legal status, on which hinged the delicate question that all the international financial assets of the Faith were in the name of Shoghi Effendi What would we say about the Guardianship? When one adds to the staggering total of the above enumerated problems the fact that all this rested on the shoulders of twenty-seven Hands, the first of whom had only been called to their high office six years previously and the last of whom were appointed a bare four weeks before Shoghi Effendi passed away, one gets some idea of the state and the burden of the Hands of the Cause of God.

As we sat in the great upstairs hall of the Mansion — so sacred, so private — our historic Proclamation was worked out; it was signed by all the Hands of the Cause except Corinne True, then aged 96, who was unable to travel from the United States to the Holy Land but quite capable of being one of the signatories by consent of that historic document. Clara Dunn, 88, was, however, present in Haifa and signed the document herself, but because of age and infirmity was not able to attend our meetings. When one remembers that of the twenty-five of us gathered in the Mansion, most of our Persian Hands spoke little or no English at this time and none of the Western Hands spoke any Persian except myself — and my vocabulary in no way covered the issues facing us — and that only two of the Persian Hands were completely bilingual and therefore we had to translate every word, back and forth — as each Hand, conscious of the frightening responsibilities resting upon us, insisted on exact translation of the opinions voiced in the other language not his own — and that this went on hour after hour, in day-long sessions, morning and afternoon, one gets a glimpse of what kind of burdens were added to our sorrow.
Ruhiyyih Khanum, Ministry of the Custodians, p. 8-9