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Covenant-breaker is a term used by Baháʼís to refer to a person who has been excommunicated from the Baháʼí community for the act of covenant-breaking, roughly defined as active opposition to the Baháʼí Faith from a current member. According to Baháʼí law, only the head of the religion, currently the Universal House of Justice, has the authority to declare a person a covenant-breaker.
A person may be declared a covenant-breaker for actions which are seen as challenging the unity of the Baháʼí community, not for personal matters such as failure to obey Baháʼí law or conversion to another religion. When a person is a declared a covenant-breaker, all Baháʼís are expected to avoid unnecessary association with that person.
Covenant-breaking does not refer to attacks from non-Baháʼís or former Baha'is. Rather, it is in reference to internal campaigns of opposition where the Covenant-breaker is seen as challenging the unity of the Baháʼí 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.
In a letter to an individual dated 23 March 1975, the Universal House of Justice wrote:
When a person declares his acceptance of Baháʼu'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 Baháʼu'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 Baháʼu'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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá to describe the partisans of his brother Mírzá Muhammad ʻAlí, who challenged his leadership. In ʻAbdu'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. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá advised all Baháʼís to shun anyone opposing the Covenant: "...one 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."
Included categories of people
Most Covenant-breakers are involved in schismatic groups, but not always. For example, a Baháʼí who refuses to follow guidance on treatment of Covenant-breakers is at risk of being named one. One article originally written for the Baháʼí Encyclopedia, characterized Covenant-breakers that have emerged in the course of Baháʼí history as belonging to one of four categories:
- 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 ʻAlí and Charles Mason Remey.
- 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 Baháʼí administration such as Ruth White and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab.
- 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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá during Shoghi Effendi's time.
- Apostates who maliciously attack the Baháʼí 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-Baháʼís 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.
Beyond this, many other relationships to the Baháʼí 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:
- Members of other religions or no religion—with or without any particular relationship to the Baháʼí Faith.
- Baháʼís who simply leave the religion. (see above)
- Baháʼís who, in the estimation of the head of the religion have insufficiently understood the nature of the covenant from the start. These are sometimes "disenrolled" and are considered to have never actually been Baháʼís, given their fundamental diversion from this core Baháʼí doctrine.
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 Baháʼu'lláh, they are not Covenant-breakers.
Followers of Subh-i-Azal, Baháʼu'lláh's half-brother who tried to poison him, engaged in active opposition to Baháʼís, and Shoghi Effendi did inform Baháʼís 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!".
Covenant-breaking in Shoghi Effendi's immediate family
Through the influence of Bahiyyih Khanum, the eldest daughter of Baháʼu'lláh, everyone in the household initially rallied around Shoghi Effendi after the death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. For several years his brother Husayn and several cousins served him as secretaries. The only ones publicly opposing him were Mírzá Muhammad ʻAlí and his followers, who were declared Covenant-breakers by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Contrary to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's specific instruction, certain family members established illicit links with those whom ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had declared Covenant-breakers. After Bahiyyih Khanum died in 1932, Shoghi Effendi's eldest sister – Ruhangiz – married Nayyer Effendi Afnan, a son of Siyyid Ali Afnan, the son of the Báb's brother in law. Nayyers' brother Hussein Effendi Afnan had been expelled for failing to resign from the government of Iraq in protest for the seizure of the house of Baháʼu'lláh. 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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, his cousins, aunts and uncles chose the latter.
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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's daughter Tuba:
- "Ruhi's sister married Covenant-breaker Faydi whose mother joined and supported arch-enemy Muhammad-ʻAli and whose father ʻAbdu'l-Bahá denounced openly and repeatedly as His deadly enemy. Ruhi's family concurred. Inform all believers all manner communication excommunicated family forbidden."
Faydi was the son of Furughiyyih Khanum, a daughter of Baháʼu'lláh by his third wife Gawhar. Furughiyyih and her children all supported Mírzá Muhammad ʻAlí. Faydi had two elder brothers. Hussein Effendi Afnan was aide-de-camp to Faisal II of Iraq and Nayyer Effendi Afnan was Commissioner of Parks in Cairo, Egypt. The entire Baháʼí Family was stigmatized by Shoghi Effendi as Covenant-breakers as he was displeased with their marriages.
Then in a 1950 cable:
- "Inform friends that Ruhi, his mother, with Ruha, his aunt, and their families, not content with years of disobedience and unworthy conduct, are now showing open defiance." (Citadel of Faith, p. 87)
And in 1953:
- "Treacherous Ruhi Afnan, not content with previous disobedience, correspondence with Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, contact with old Covenant-breakers, sale, in conjunction with other members of family, of sacred property purchased by Founder of Faith, and allowing his sister to marry son of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's enemy, is now openly lecturing on Baháʼ�� movement, claiming to be its exponent and is misrepresenting the teachings and deliberately causing confusion in minds of authorities and the local population. Inform National Assemblies." (Messages to the Baháʼí World – 1950–1957, p. 48)
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]
Concerning Munib Shahid, Shoghi Effendi's cousin through ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's daughter Ruha, Shoghi Effendi sent the following cable to the Baháʼí world in November 1944:
- "Monib Shahid, grandson of both ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and the King of Martyrs, married according to the Moslem rites the daughter of a political exile who is nephew of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. This treacherous act of alliance with enemies of the Faith merits condemnation of entire Baháʼí world." (Baháʼí News, No. 172)
Husayn Ali was Shoghi Effendi's brother. In April 1945, Shoghi Effendi sent the following cable to the Baháʼí 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" (Baháʼí 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"  (Baháʼí News, No. 229, p. 1). Shoghi Effendi would later clarify 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. Surely, every Bahá’í must realise that the terms low-born and Christian are definitions of a situation and in no way imply any condemnation of a person’s birth or the religion they belong to as such. We have no snobbery and no religious prejudice in our Faith. But the members of the Master’s family have contracted marriages which cannot be considered in any other light than disgraceful, in view of what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wished for them.” (Baháʼí News, No. 236, p. 4)(Unfolding Destiny, p. 248).
Concerning his own brother Riaz, the following cable was sent in December 1951:
- "With feeling profound concern, grief, indignation, am compelled disclose Baháʼí world recent developments Holy Land furnishing further incontestable proof relationship established old and new Covenant-breakers demonstrating increasing boldness, marked, tragic decline in character and spiritual condition grandchildren ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Their shameful attitude and conduct receiving approbation their elders. Evidences multiplying attesting Ruhi's increasing rebelliousness, efforts exerted my eldest sister pave way fourth alliance members family Siyyid Ali involving marriage his granddaughter with Ruha's son and personal contact recently established my own treacherous, despicable brother Riaz with Majdi'd-Din, redoubtable enemy Faith, former henchman Muhammad-'Ali, Archbreaker Baháʼu'lláh's Covenant. Convey information all National Assemblies." (Messages to the Baháʼí World – 1950–1957, p. 16)
He dispatched a cable concerning his younger sister in December 1941:
- "Sister Mehrangis [Mehrangiz] followed example Ruhi's [Ruhi] sister Justice demands announce believers her expulsion.". (Unfolding Destiny, p. 149)
The reason for her being declared a Covenant-breaker was that she followed the example of Ruhi's sister by marrying to one of his cousins without the Guardian's consent. Mehrangiz married to Hassan Afnan, the son of Furughiyyih Khanum, a daughter of Baháʼu'lláh by his third wife Gawhar.
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Most of the groups regarded by the larger group of Baháʼís as Covenant-breakers originated in the claims of Charles Mason Remey to the Guardianship in 1960. The Will and Testament of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá states that Guardians should be lineal descendants of Baháʼu'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. Baháʼís interpret lineal descendency to mean physical familial relation to Baháʼu'lláh, of which Mason Remey was not.
Almost all of Baháʼís 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 Baháʼu'lláh who could qualify under the terms of ʻAbdu'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.
The largest group of the remaining followers of Remey, members of the so called "Orthodox Baháʼí Faith", believe that legitimate authority passed from Shoghi Effendi to Mason Remey to Joel Marangella. They, therefore, regard the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel to be illegitimate, and its members and followers to be Covenant-breakers.
The present descendants of expelled members of Baháʼu'lláh's family have not specifically been declared Covenant-breakers, though they mostly do not associate themselves with the Baháʼí religion.
A small group of Baháʼís in Northern New Mexico believe that these descendants are eligible for appointment to the Guardianship and are waiting for such a direct descendant of Baháʼu'lláh to arise as the rightful Guardian.
There is also a small group in Montana, originally inspired by 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.
- Covenant, The, and Covenant-breaker
- The Will And Testament of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, p 20
- Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 64
- Shoghi Effendi, From letter dated 9 December 1948 to an individual believer
- Taherzadeh 2000, p. 145
- Sohrab, Ahmad (1943). Abdul Baha's Grandson Story of a Twentieth Century Excommunication. Universal Publishing Company, New York. p. 166.
- Effendi, Shoghi (22 February 2015). Citadel of Faith. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 87. ISBN 978-1508530596.
- From Gaslight to Dawn 10-19
- "Messages from the Guardian". Baháʼí News (172). December 1944. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
- "Messages from the Guardian". Baháʼí News (174). April 1945. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
- "Faithless Brother". Baháʼí News (229). March 1950. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
- "Hussein". Baháʼí News (236). October 1950. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1981) . Unfolding Destiny: Letter of 15 June 1950. United Kingdom: UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust. p. 248.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1999). Messages to the Baháʼí World: 1950–1957. Baha'i Publishing Trust. p. 16. ISBN 978-0877432500.
- 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 Baháʼí Publishing Trust. p. 149. ISBN 978-0900125430.
- Sohrab, Ahmad (1943). Abdul Baha's Grandson Story of a Twentieth Century Excommunication. Universal Publishing Company, New York. p. 22.
- ʻAbdu'l-Bahá (1992) [1901-08]. The Will And Testament of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Mona Vale, N.S.W, Australia: Baháʼí Publications Australia. ISBN 0-909991-47-2.
- Baháʼu'lláh (1992) . The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-85398-999-0.
- Balyuzi, Hasan (2000). Baháʼu'lláh, King of Glory (Paperback ed.). Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-328-3.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1974). Baháʼí Administration. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-166-3.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-020-9.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1976). Principles of Baháʼí Administration (4th ed.). London, UK: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-900125-13-6.
- Rabbani, Ruhiyyih (Ed.) (1992). The Ministry of the Custodians 1957-1963. Baháʼí World Centre. ISBN 0-85398-350-X.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Rabbani, Ruhiyyih (1969). The Priceless Pearl (Hardcover ed.). London, UK: Baháʼí Publishing Trust: 2000. ISBN 1-870989-91-0.
- Taherzadeh, Adib (1972). The Covenant of Baháʼu'lláh. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-344-5.
- Taherzadeh, Adib (2000). The Child of the Covenant. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-439-5.
- The Covenant and Covenant-breaker - Article by Moojan Momen on the history, purpose, and power of the Covenant. Includes history of Covenant breakers, the three categories, and references for further study.
- A Compilation: Non-Association with Covenant-breakers - From the Continental Board of Counselors to the NSAs of Alaska, Canada and the US, 7 December 1999.