The Baha’i Covenant: A Brief Overview

Photo: Courtesy PamelaB via flickr.

One of the topics of the Faith Baha’is are consistently encouraged to study and deepen their understanding of is the topic of the ‘Covenant of Baha’u’llah’, also known as the ‘Baha’i Covenant’.

In order to discuss the Baha’i Covenant, we first need to understand what a covenant is. Conventionally speaking, a covenant is a pact or binding agreement, but in the religious sense, it’s more than that. As the Universal House of Justice wrote:

A Covenant in the religious sense is a binding agreement between God and man, whereby God requires of man certain behaviour in return for which He guarantees certain blessings, or whereby He gives man certain bounties in return for which He takes from those who accept them an undertaking to behave in a certain way.1

Wonderful! Now we have a primer for the word “covenant” as it applies to religious discourse. So, what is the Baha’i Covenant?

Baha’is typically discuss two ‘forms’ of the covenant: the “Greater Covenant” and the “Lesser Covenant.” Let’s start with the Greater Covenant. In the same letter from the Universal House of Justice cited above, we find this passage:

There is… the Greater Covenant which every Manifestation of God makes with His followers, promising that in the fullness of time a new Manifestation will be sent, and taking from them the undertaking to accept Him when this occurs.2

In other words, this is the belief that God has never left mankind without guidance from above. This guidance has always been delivered to mankind through an intermediary, to whom Baha’is refer to as ‘Manifestations of God’ (not literal incarnations of God Himself, but mirrors of His divine attributes) who are usually called “messengers” or “prophets”. Baha’is number Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah among these Manifestations of God.

This Greater Covenant has implications for mankind as a whole — hence the name — but what about the “Lesser Covenant?” In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi some 90 years ago, he explains:

The second form of covenant is such as the one Baha’u’llah made with His people that they should accept the Master [Abd’ul-Baha]. This is merely to establish and strengthen the succession of the series of Lights that appear after every Manifestation. Under the same category falls the covenant the Master made with the Baha’is that they should accept His administration after Him…3

As we can see, this form of the Covenant applies to Baha’is. It is an agreement to accept the chain of succession which has taken place since the time of Baha’u’llah, beginning with Him and continuing to His son Abdu’l-Baha, then Shoghi Effendi, then the Hands of the Cause of God, and finally the Universal House of Justice, which was first elected in 1963.

Why is this dimension of the Covenant so crucial? Each of the aforementioned leaders of the Baha’i Faith had the title of “Center of the Covenant”. As Abdu’l-Baha states:

…whosoever obeys the Center of the Covenant appointed by Baha’u’llah has obeyed Baha’u’llah, and whosoever disobeys Him has disobeyed Baha’u’llah…4

This is strong, purposely chosen language as it reflects the importance of the Lesser Covenant as a way to unite Baha’is against threats of dissension and sedition, forces which have ravaged religions of the past. The late Adib Taherzadeh, who served on the Universal House of Justice, gives an example of how a lack of clarity in religious successorship led to profound sectarianism in Christianity:

The Gospels are silent on the question of successorship. Only a vague and inconclusive statement, ‘…thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’, has led some to consider Peter as Christ’s successor. Such a claim, which is not upheld by a clear and unequivocal declaration in the Gospels, has resulted in bitter conflicts throughout the checkered history of Christianity. As a result the religion founded by Christ has been divided into major sects from the early centuries, and these have multiplied in the course of time.5

He goes on to give a similar example from Islam, where a single verbal statement made by Muhammad ultimately led to the Shi‘ah/Sunni bifurcation, and of course even more sects have arisen since that split. Mr. Taherzadeh concludes that section with the following passage:

One of the distinguishing features of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, then, is that its Author has established a mighty covenant with His followers concerning His successor, a covenant whose characteristics are delineated by Baha’u’llah Himself, a covenant written in His own hand, unequivocal in the provisions it has made for the future of His Cause, and acknowledged as an authentic document even by those who violated it.6

In sum, the purpose of the Baha’i covenant is twofold: on the one hand, it is meant to keep mankind cognizant of their perpetual, unending relationship with God through His Manifestations — who will forever continue to guide us throughout the ages, and on the other, it is meant to keep Baha’is unified by delineating the line of their leadership in clear and unequivocal language.

  1. The Universal House of Justice, 23 March 1975, The Covenant Compilation []
  2. The Universal House of Justice, 23 March 1975, The Covenant Compilation []
  3. From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual, October 21, 1921, in Lights of Guidance, no.593 []
  4. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.23 []
  5. Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p.99 []
  6. Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p.99 []

About the Author

Adib is a student, Kindle enthusiast, and avid reader of anything with words. In 2009, he put together a brief book entitled 'Debunking the Myths', which deals with conspiracy theories leveled against the Baha'i Faith. He is keen on the latest news from the tech industry and enjoys honing his translation skills (Persian to English) during his free time.

Visit Author's Website

Share This Post With the World

Discussion 6 Comments

  1. Rainbows, vis-à-vis the Covenant, remind us of the beauty of religious images referenced in the holy Bible – if I recall correctly.
    I’m certainly not sure about the above as it all harks back to Bible studies in my Saul like days as a kid and as an unbelieving adolescent.
    Nor am I well enough deepened in the Baha’i Covenant. So please weigh in with more updates and more info

    Your article made me want to live as long as Methuselah who reached 969 years, expiring a week or two before the Flood.
    I’d be more than moderately keen to live as long, if only (possibly!) to witness interactions between the next Manifestation of God, the Universal House of Justice as a Divinely ordained institution tasked with providing all humankind with infallible guidance, and its nine non-infallible members as individual believers upholding like the rest of us the Greater and the Lesser Covenants.

    Underpinning one of your closing points, i.e. that God’s ‘Manifestations — will forever continue to guide us throughout the ages’ is Haifa’s 23 March 1975 statement:
    ‘…the Greater Covenant which every Manifestation of God makes with His followers, promising that in the fullness of time a new Manifestation will be sent, and taking from them the undertaking to accept Him when this occurs’

    Both of these extracts above indicate that a future Manifestation is a certainty. While He or She won’t appear, according to the Writings until at least AD 2843 or 2844, that Coming prima facie seems not to be in question.

    I recall Baha’i speakers in 1989 when I started investigating the Baha’i Faith make claim that a new Manifestation need not necessarily appear at all depending on how earnestly the Baha’is in the interim, including our nine eminent rulers in the Holy Land together with the many learned all over the world, live the Baha’i life and propagate the faith of Baha’u’llah???

    Baha’i love

    Paul

  2. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in “Some Answered Questions” pp 164-166 has expanded as to the renewal of religion and the meaning of ‘Return’ as in the Manifestations of God.:

    “In the beginning the tree was in all its beauty, and full of blossoms and fruits, but at last it became old and entirely fruitless, and it withered and decayed. This is why the True Gardener plants again an incomparable young tree of the same kind and species, which grows and develops day by day, and spreads a wide shadow in the divine garden, and yields admirable fruit. So it is with religions; through the passing of time they change from their original foundation, the truth of the Religion of God entirely departs, and the spirit of it does not stay; heresies appear, and it becomes a body without a soul. That is why it is renewed.
    The meaning is that the Buddhists and Confucianists now worship images and statues. They are entirely heedless of the Oneness of God and believe in imaginary gods like the ancient Greeks. But in the beginning it was not so; there were different principles and other ordinances.
    Again, consider how much the principles of the religion of Christ have been forgotten, and how many heresies have appeared. For example, Christ forbade revenge and transgression; furthermore, He commanded benevolence and mercy in return for injury and evil. Now reflect: among the Christian nations themselves how many sanguinary wars have taken place, and how much oppression, cruelty, rapacity and bloodthirstiness have occurred! Many of these wars were carried on by command of the Popes. It is then clear and evident that in the passage of time religions become entirely changed and altered. Therefore, they are renewed.”

    What does ‘Abdul-Baha’s statement above: “But if religions did not change and alter there would be no need of renewal.” mean for the Baha’i Faith and the coming of the next Manifestation of God?

    Baha’i love

    Paul

  3. This post is really well done, and I congratulate the author. It’s an endless and wonderful topic, though, so I hope you get a chance to expand upon it in further posts.

    Alan

  4. Readers here might enjoy a wider context for this subject of the covenant which I deal with at the following sub-section of my website, in addition to many other parts of my website for what I try to provide–a highly comprehensive and complex context for the Baha’i Faith within the immense diversity of the fields of learning: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Babi.html

  5. “Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hat been made, and His praise glorified.”
    -Bahá’u’lláh

  6. Thursday, November 28th. November 2013

    You know…Together with Diane and Georges STARCHER, on the 30th. of November 1973/130, in Paris, we were
    at the house of Ms. Laura Clifford DREYFUS BARNEY to celebrate her 94th. anniversary…and we said that
    prayer for PROTECTION:

    Lauded be Thy Name, O Lord my God! I entreat Thee
    by Thy Name through which the Hour hath struck, and the
    Resurrection came to pass, and fear and trembling seized
    all that are in heaven and all that are on earth, to rain down,
    out of the heaven of Thy mercy and the clouds of Thy tender
    compassion, what will gladden the hearts of Thy servants, who
    have turned toward Thee and helped Thy Cause.
    Keep safe Thy servants and Thy handmaidens, O my Lord, from
    the darts of idle fancy and vain imaginings, and give them from
    the hands of Thy grace a draught of the soft-flowing waters of
    Thy knowledge.
    Thou, truly, art the Almighty, the Most Exalted, the Ever-Forgiving,
    the Most Generous,
    -Bahá’u’lláh

    ALLÁH’U’ABHÁ

    William M. Danjon Dieudonné

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *