A Covenant-breaker or the act of Covenant-breaking is a term used by Bahá'ís to refer to a form of disunity: "The specific mission of Bahá'u'lláh relates to world unity. Since it would be impossible for the Bahá'í Faith to unite the world if it were itself disunited, the role of the covenant as the guarantor of the unity of the Bahá'í community becomes inextricably linked with the goal of world unity: "It is evident that the axis of oneness of the world of humanity is the power of the Covenant and nothing else." (TDP 49, cf GPB 239, SWA 208-9).[1] Being declared a Covenant-breaker is done by the head of the Faith which is the Universal House of Justice, which has nine members and is the governing body of the Bahá'ís since 1963. Bahá'ís avoid association with Covenant-breakers, even if they are a family member.


Covenant-breaking does not refer to attacks from non-Bahá'ís or former Baha'is. Rather, it is in reference to internal campaigns of opposition where the Covenant-breaker is challenging the unity of the Faith, causing internal division, or by claiming or supporting an alternate succession of authority or administrative structure. The central purpose of the covenant is to prevent schism and dissension.[1] In a letter to an individual dated 23 March 1975, the Universal House of Justice wrote:

When a person declares his acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh as a Manifestation of God he becomes a party to the Covenant and accepts the totality of His Revelation. If he then turns round and attacks Bahá'u'lláh or the Central Institution of the Faith he violates the Covenant. If this happens every effort is made to help that person to see the illogicality and error of his actions, but if he persists he must, in accordance with the instructions of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, be shunned as a Covenant-breaker.

The term 'Covenant-breaker' or, in Arabic 'naqid al-mithaq' [pl. Naqidu 'l-mithaq], was first used by `Abdu'l-Bahá to describe the partisans of his brother Mírzá Muhammad `Alí, who challenged his leadership. In `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament, He appointed Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the religion and called for the eventual election of the Universal House of Justice, and defined in the same manner opposition to these two institutions as Covenant-Breaking. `Abdu'l-Bahá advised all Bahá'ís to shun anyone opposing the Covenant: " of the greatest and most fundamental principles of the Cause of God is to shun and avoid entirely the Covenant-breakers, for they will utterly destroy the Cause of God, exterminate His Law and render of no account all efforts exerted in the past."[2]


Included categories of people

While most Covenant-breakers are involved in schismatic groups, that is not always the case. For example, a Bahá'í who refuses to follow guidance on treatment of Covenant-breakers is at risk of being named one. One article[3] originally written for the Bahá'í Encyclopedia, characterized Covenant-breakers that have emerged in the course of Bahá'í history as belonging to one of four categories:

  1. Leadership challenge: These are persons who dispute the authority and legitimacy of the head of the religion and advance claims either for themselves or for another. The main examples of these are Mírzá Muhammad `Alí and Charles Mason Remey.
  2. Dissidence: Those who actively disagree with the policies and actions of the head of the faith without, however, advancing an alternative claim for leadership. This group consisted mostly of opponents of the Bahá'í administration such as Ruth White and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab.
  3. Disobedience: Those who disobey certain direct instructions from the head of the religion. Mostly the instruction in question is to cease to associate with a Covenant-breaker. Examples of this type include most of the descendants of `Abdu'l-Bahá during Shoghi Effendi's time.
  4. Apostates who maliciously attack the Bahá'í Faith. Examples include Ávárih and Níkú.

Excluded categories of people

Shoghi Effendi wrote to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada in 1957:

People who have withdrawn from the Cause because they no longer feel that they can support its Teachings and Institutions sincerely, are not Covenant-breakers -- they are non-Bahá'ís and should just be treated as such. Only those who ally themselves actively with known enemies of the Faith who are Covenant-breakers, and who attack the Faith in the same spirit as these people, can be considered, themselves, to be Covenant-breakers.[4]

Beyond this, many other relationships to the Bahá'í Faith exist, both positive and negative. Covenant-breaking does not apply to most of them. The following is a partial list of those who could not rightly be termed Covenant-breakers:


Bábís are generally regarded as another religion altogether. Since Covenant-breaking presumes that one has submitted oneself to a covenant and then broken it, and Bábís never recognized or swore allegiance to Bahá'u'lláh, they are not Covenant-breakers.

Followers of Subh-i-Azal, Bahá'u'lláh's half-brother who tried to poison him, engaged in active opposition to Bahá'ís, and Shoghi Effendi did inform Bahá'ís that they should avoid contact with his descendants, writing that "No intelligent and loyal Baha'i would associate with a descendant of Azal, if he traced the slightest breath of criticism of our Faith, in any aspect, from that person. In fact these people should be strenuously avoided as having an inherited spiritual disease -- the disease of Covenant-breaking!".[5]

Covenant-Breaking in Shoghi Effendi's immediate family

Through the influence of Bahiyyih Khanum, the eldest daughter of Bahá'u'lláh, everyone in the household initially rallied around Shoghi Effendi after the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá. For several years his brother Husayn and several cousins served him as secretaries. The only ones publicly opposing him were Mirza Muhammad-Ali and his followers, who were declared Covenant-breakers by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Contrary to `Abdu'l-Bahá's specific instruction, certain family members established illicit links with those declared Covenant-breakers by `Abdu'l-Bahá. After Bahiyyih Khanum died in 1932, Shoghi Effendi's eldest sister--Ruhangiz --married a son of Siyyid Ali Afnan. Bahá'u'lláh's son-in-law was, thus, a long-standing enemy of `Abdu'l-Bahá (who had declared him a Covenant-breaker.) Through Ruhangiz's efforts, Shoghi Effendi's other sister and his cousin Thurayya also married sons of Siyyid Ali Afnan. Presumably being faced with a choice between shunning their disobedient family members and being themselves disobedient to `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, his cousins, aunts and uncles chose the latter.

Ruhi Afnan

After years of silence on these developments, cables sent by Shoghi Effendi on 2 November 1941 provide background to developments among family members. Ruhi Afnan, Shoghi Effendi's cousin through `Abdu'l-Bahá's daughter Tuba:

Then in a 1950 cable:

And in 1953:

Later, Ruhi was presented with a copy of Sohrab's book about his excommunication:

"… under ordinary circumstances he would have been very much elated, and therefore thankful to see someone make such records of his services to the Cause, but that the references to the Guardian and the Administration changed his attitude completely. He did not wish to be defended; he felt that he must suffer in silence and be true to the Master’s last will and testament. Then Ruhi Effendi referred to Ahmad as being in the same plight as himself, but reacting differently. He thought this very regrettable." [p. 281][7]

Munib Shahid

Concerning Munib Shahid, Shoghi Effendi's cousin through `Abdu'l-Bahá's daughter Ruha, Shoghi Effendi sent the following cable to the Bahá'í world in November 1944:

Husayn Ali

Husayn Ali was Shoghi Effendi's brother. In April 1945, Shoghi Effendi sent the following cable to the Bahá'í world: "My faithless brother Husayn, after long period of dishonourable conduct, has abandoned the Master's home to consort with his sister and other Covenant-breakers"[9] (Bahá'í News, No. 174, p.2). In March 1950, Shoghi Effendi would send a further cable: "Faithless brother Hussein, already abased through dishonorable conduct over period (of) years followed by association with Covenant-breakers (in) Holy Land and efforts (to) undermine Guardian's position, recently further demeaned himself through marriage under obscure circumstances with lowborn Christian girl (in) Europe" [10] (Bahá'í News, No. 229, p.1). Shoghi Effendi would later defend the use of the term "lowborn Christian girl" as follows: "Regarding his cable concerning Hussein: he has been very surprised to note that the terms 'low-born Christian girl ' and 'disgraceful alliance' should arouse any question; it seems to him that the friends should realize it is not befitting for the Guardian's own brother, the grandchild of the Master, an Afnán and Aghsán mentioned in the Will and Testament of the Master, and of whom so much was expected because of his relation to the family of the Prophet, to marry an unknown girl, according to goodness knows what rite, who is not a believer at all"[11] (Bahá'í News, No. 236, p.4).


Concerning his own brother Riaz, the following cable was sent in December 1951:


He dispatched a cable concerning his younger sister in December 1941:

Resultant groups

Main article: Bahá'í divisions

Most of the groups regarded by the larger group of Bahá'ís as Covenant-breakers originated in the claims of Charles Mason Remey to the Guardianship in 1960. The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá states that Guardians should be lineal descendants of Bahá'u'lláh, that each Guardian must select his successor during his lifetime, and that the nine Hands of the Cause of God permanently stationed in the holy land must approve the appointment by majority vote. Bahá'ís interpret lineal descendency to mean physical familial relation to Bahá'u'lláh, of which Mason Remey was not.

Almost all of Bahá'ís accepted the determination of the Hands of the Cause that upon the death of Shoghi Effendi, he died "without having appointed his successor". There was an absence of a valid descendant of Bahá'u'lláh who could qualify under the terms of `Abdu'l-Bahá's will. Later the Universal House of Justice, initially elected in 1963, made a ruling on the subject that it was not possible for another Guardian to be appointed.

In 1960 Remey, a Hand of the Cause himself, retracted his earlier position, and claimed to have been coerced. He claimed to be the successor to Shoghi Effendi. He and the small number of people who followed him were expelled from the Faith by the Hands of the Cause. Those close to Remey claimed that he went senile in old age, and by the time of his death he was largely abandoned, with his most prominent followers fighting amongst themselves for leadership. [Citation needed.]

The largest group of the remaining followers of Remey, members of the so called "Orthodox Bahá'í Faith", believe that legitimate authority passed from Shoghi Effendi to Mason Remey to Joel Marangella. [Citation needed.] They, therefore, regard the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel to be illegitimate, and its members and followers to be Covenant-breakers. [Citation needed.]

The present descendants of expelled members of Bahá'u'lláh's family have not specifically been declared Covenant-breakers, though they mostly do not associate themselves with the Bahá'í religion. [Citation needed.] A small group of Bahá'ís in Northern New Mexico believe that these descendants are eligible for appointment to the Guardianship and are waiting for such a direct descendant of Bahá'u'lláh to arise as the rightful Guardian.

There is also a small group in Montana, originally formed around the personality of Leland Jensen, who claimed a status higher than that of the Guardian. His failed apocalyptic predictions and unsuccessful efforts to reestablish the Guardianship and the administration were apparent by his death in 1996. A dispute among Jensen's followers over the identity of the Guardian resulted in another division in 2001.[Citation needed.]

See also


  1. 1 2 Covenant, The, and Covenant-breaker
  2. The Will And Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p 20
  3. The Covenant, and Covenant-breaker, by Moojan Momen
  4. Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 64
  5. Shoghi Effendi, From letter dated 9 December 1948 to an individual believer
  6. Effendi, Shoghi (February 22, 2015). Citadel of Faith. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 87. ISBN 978-1508530596.
  7. From Gaslight to Dawn 10-19
  8. "Messages from the Guardian". Bahá'í News (172). December 1944. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  9. "Messages from the Guardian" (PDF). Bahá'í News (174). April 1945. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  10. "Faithless Brother". Bahá'í News (229). March 1950. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  11. "Hussein" (PDF). Bahá'í News (236). October 1950. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  12. Effendi, Shoghi (1999). Messages to the Bahá’í World: 1950–1957. Baha'i Publishing Trust. p. 16. ISBN 978-0877432500.
  13. Effendi, Shoghi (December 1981). The unfolding destiny of the British Baha'i community: Messages from the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith to the Baha'is of the British Isles. UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust. p. 149. ISBN 978-0900125430.


External links

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