What challenges to the Covenant occured after the passing of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá?

Ahmad Sohrab

“The case of Ahmad Sohrab is, for one who has had any experience of orientals and of psychology, easily understandable. He was, for some years the secretary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and enjoyed, as a result of this and the fact that he accompanied Him to America, (to be sure with a number of other Persians), a great deal of attention from the Bahá’ís who looked up to him and admired him. However, since the Master’s Will was read, and the administrative order, under the Guardianship, began to be developed, he became cognizant of the fact that his personal ambition for leadership would have to be subordinated to some degree of supervision; that he would have to obey the National and local assemblies - just like every other Bahá’í, and could not be free to teach wholly independent of any advice or supervision. This was the beginning of the defection which in the end took him outside the pale of the Faith: he refused not to be handled always as an exception, a privileged exception. In fact, if we keenly analyse it, it is almost invariably the soaring ambition and deep self-love of people that has led them to leave the Faith. Towards the end Sohrab used, in the course of his lectures, to incorporate quotation after quotation of Bahá’u’lláh’s words in his lectures, without once stating they were Bahá’u’lláh’s, and when the believers remonstrated with him over this plagiarism, it had no effect. After he had, of his own accord, left the organized body of the Faith and refused to be reconciled with it, he began to attack the administrators of it, first the American N.S.A., then the entire administrative order, and in the end the Guardian. What he teaches at present is so far divorced from our beloved Faith, and so tinged with the doctrines of many ‘cults’ which we see thriving at present, as to be almost unrecognizable. Sohrab’s influence and activities in America have waned greatly, and he seems to now feel his only chance of causing mischief is to be active with his ‘caravan’ movement abroad. The books and articles he published attacking the Guardian and, in fact, everything established in the Master’s Will, had no effect, and far from succeeding in causing any breach in the Faith in America, some of the very few who followed him out of the Cause, gave him up, and returned to serve the Cause with redoubled enthusiasm!

The Guardian feels that one of the best antidotes to those - Sohrab or others - who seek to undermine the faith of the believers, especially by harping on the subject of excommunication, is to place in their hands a German edition of ‘God Passes By’. For in that book he (the Guardian) has clearly pointed out that the Cause of God has always been attacked from within, and that, beginning in the days of the Báb, the ‘Sea of Truth’ has over and over cast out its spiritually dead. It must do this, even as the body seeks to rid itself of poisons so as to preserve the health of the entire organism.

Your assembly should do all it can to protect and educate the believers so that they will understand that it is not personal ill-will, or lack of love, which leads to the excommunication of a person, but rather the fact that he has become like a cancer which must be removed before the entire body is destroyed.”

From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 134-137.


Ruth White

“The Cause of God must be protected from the enemies of the Faith, and from those who sow seeds of doubt in the hearts of the believers, and the greatest of all protections is knowledge: there is no doubt that the silliest of all charges ever made is that the “Will and Testament” of the Master is a forgery! It is all in His own hand, sealed in more than one place with His own seal, and was opened after His death by some members of His own family, who took it from His own safe, in this house, and from that day it has been kept in the safe under lock and key. The charges of Mrs. White were the result of an unbalanced mind. No other enemy, even those who were shrewd and clever, made this foolish accusation!”

From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 134.

“(Mrs. Ruth) White’s base, preposterous imputations should be entirely ignored. Her machinations can never succeed impede onward march of Cause. Present agitation will assuredly die down. Appeal American Bahá’ís, New York believers in particular, recall these days of stress sacredness of their trust, nobility of their calling. Slightest evidence internal division highly detrimental. Have just completed rough rendering of most detailed authentic narrative early days of Faith trusting its eventual publication may serve heighten enthusiasm deepen faith American believers.”

Extract from a 24 October 1930 cablegram from Shoghi Effendi, published in Bahá’í news number 47 (January 1931), page 1, and cited in “Shoghi Effendi: Extracts From The USBN: A Compilation of Letters and Extracts of Writings from the Guardian Published in the Bahá’í News of the United States”.

“… as regards the handwriting of the Will, you should know that Shoghi Effendi sent out photostatic copies of the Will not only to National Spiritual Assemblies, but also for distribution among individual believers in Persia. You should also remember that the members of the Master’s family, including his half-brother, Muhammad ‘Alí, who is so strongly condemned in the Will, as well as the thousands of Persian believers who had received or studied Tablets from Him, were thoroughly familiar with the handwriting of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the Will is so obviously in that handwriting that no one who was qualified to judge — even those who could profit by claiming that the Will was invalid — has ever questioned its authenticity. Even believers who became bitter enemies of Shoghi Effendi after the passing of the Master, … did not question the validity of the Will. The only challenge came from Mrs. White, an American ignorant of Persian, who had the ulterior motive of trying to discredit an administration which she personally opposed. The handwriting expert whose opinion she quoted in support of her argument was also a westerner and himself stated that he could not give a final opinion without seeing the writing in the original.

Mrs. White went as far as appealing to the civil authorities of Palestine to take legal action in the matter, a request which the British Authorities curtly refused. When, several months later, Badi’u’llah, the brother and lieutenant of the deceased arch-breaker of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, approached these same authorities claiming the right to oppose the projected transfer of the remains of the Mother and Brother of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from ‘Akká to Haifa, they categorically upheld the authority of Shoghi Effendi as the Successor of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the basis of their scrutiny of the Will and Testament, the validity of which Badi’u’llah did not dispute.”

The Universal House of Justice, quoted in Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 348.

Members of Shoghi Effendi’s family