Shoghi Effendi Rabbání

From New World Encyclopedia

Shoghí Effendí Rabbání (March 1, 1897 – November 4, 1957), better known as Shoghi Effendi, was the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957. He played an important role in transforming the Bahá'í community into an international movement with branches all over the world. Shoghi Effendi is remembered for his meticulous translations of Bahá'í writings into English, his ceaseless efforts to work for the faith, as well as presiding over the Institution of the Guardianship, a new phase in the leadership of the Bahá'í community that was inaugurated with the passing of the Bahá'í spiritual leader, `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921.

For thirty-six years Shoghi Effendi developed the worldwide Bahá'í community and its administrative structure. Before he assumed the leadership of the Faith, the Bahá'í community was relatively small and undeveloped. Shoghi Effendi strengthened and developed the Faith over many years to the point where it was capable of supporting the administrative structure envisioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Under Shoghi Effendi's direction, National Spiritual Assemblies were formed, and many thousands of Local Spiritual Assemblies sprang up as the Bahá'í Faith spread around the globe.


Born in `Akká (modern Acre, Israel) in March 1897, Shoghi Effendi was related to The Báb through his father, Mírzá Hádí Shírází, and to Bahá'u'lláh through his mother, Díyá'íyyih Khánum, the eldest daughter of `Abdu'l-Bahá. From the early years of his life, Shoghi Effendi was greatly influenced by `Abdu'l-Bahá, who provided much of his initial training. Shoghi Effendi would pray every dawn for one hour in his grandfather's room and learned numerous prayers that `Abdu'l-Bahá encouraged him to chant. It was also `Abdu'l-Bahá who insisted that the appellation given to the child should be "Shoghi Effendi," ("Effendi" signifies "Sir"), rather than simply "Shoghi," as a mark of respect towards him.

From his early years, Shoghi Effendi was introduced to the suffering that accompanied the Bahá'ís in Akká, including the attacks by Mírzá Muhammad `Alí against `Abdu'l-Bahá. As a young boy, he was aware of Sultán `Abdu'l-Hamíd's desire to banish `Abdu'l-Bahá to the torrid deserts of North Africa where he was expected to perish. At one point, Shoghi Effendi was warned not to drink coffee among visitors in the fear that he would be poisoned.

Tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá

Being the eldest grandson of `Abdu'l-Bahá, from his earliest childhood he had a special relationship with his grandfather. Dr. Baghdadi reports that when Shoghi Effendi was only five years old, he was pestering his grandfather to write a tablet for him, which was common for `Abdu'l-Bahá. He wrote the following for his grandson:

"O My Shoghi, I have no time to talk, leave me alone! You said 'write' - I have written. What else should be done? Now is not the time for you to read and write, it is the time for jumping about and chanting 'O My God!', therefore memorize the prayers of the Blessed Beauty and chant them that I may hear them, because there is no time for anything else."
(The Priceless Pearl, pg. 8)

Shoghi Effendi then set out to memorizing a number of prayers, and chanted them as loud as he could. This caused family members to ask `Abdu'l-Bahá to quiet him down, a request which he apparently refused.


He first attended a French Christian Brothers school in Haifa, then boarding at another Catholic school in Beirut, Shoghi Effendi later attended the Syrian Protestant College (later known as the American University of Beirut) for his final years of high school and first years of university. He reported being very unhappy in school and often returned to Haifa spending his vacations with `Abdu'l-Bahá.

During his studies, he dedicated himself to mastering English—adding this language to the Arabic, French, Persian, and Turkish languages in which he was already fluent—so that he could translate the letters of `Abdu'l-Bahá and serve as His secretary.

After studying at the American University of Beirut he later went to Balliol College, Oxford in England, where he matriculated in "Economics and Social Sciences," while still perfecting his translation skills.

Prelude to Guardianship

The issue of successorship to `Abdu'l Bahá was in the minds of early Bahá'ís, and although the Universal House of Justice was an institution mentioned by Bahá'u'lláh, the institution of the Guardianship was not introduced until the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá was publicly read after his death. Bahá'u'lláh's will mentions Mírzá Muhammad `Alí as following `Abdu'l Bahá in leadership, but he was excommunicated as a covenant-breaker and shunned by Bahá'ís.

On the occasion of some Persian believers asking him about a successor, `Abdu'l Bahá responded:

"...Know verily that this is a well-guarded secret. It is even as a gem concealed within its shell. That it will be revealed is predestined. The time will come when its light will appear, when its evidences will be made manifest, and its secrets unravelled."
(The Priceless Pearl, pg. 1)

On another occasion, Western believers, hearing of the birth of Shoghi Effendi, wrote to `Abdu'l Bahá and asked if this child is the one mentioned in the Bible in Isaiah 11:6 where it says "a little child shall lead them." The response was:

"Verily, that child is born and is alive and from him will appear wondrous things that thou wilt hear of in the future. Thou shalt behold him endowed with the most perfect appearance, supreme capacity, absolute perfection, consummate power and unsurpassed might... ages and centuries will bear traces of him."
(The Priceless Pearl, pg. 2)


`Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament is considered one of the four charters of the Bahá'í Administrative Order. In it he laid down the authority of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice:

"...The Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abha Beauty... Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God."
(`Abdu'l-Bahá, The Will and Testament, p. 11)

Passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá

On November 29, 1921, the news of `Abdu'l-Bahá's passing reached Shoghi Effendi, which left him "in a state of collapse," according to Tudor Pole, the deliverer of the cable. After spending a couple of days in bed, and making the proper arrangements, he arrived in Haifa on December 29, and a few days later opened `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament, which was addressed to Shoghi Effendi.

In the will, Shoghi Effendi found that he had been designated as "the Sign of God, the chosen branch, the Guardian of the Cause of God." He also learned that he had been designated as this when he was still a small child.

Shoghi Effendi later expressed to his wife and others that he had no foreknowledge of the existence of the Institution of Guardianship, least of all that he was appointed as Guardian. The most he expected was perhaps, because he was the eldest grandson, `Abdu'l-Bahá might have left instructions as to how the Universal House of Justice was to be elected and he might have been designated as Convener of the gathering which would elect it.

Private life


Shoghi Effendi Rabbani was educated at Oxford University and had an excellent command of the English language. He was highly intelligent and energetic. In 1937, he married Mary Maxwell, a Canadian. She was the only child of May Maxwell, one of the foremost disciples of `Abdu'l-Bahá, and William Sutherland Maxwell, a distinguished Canadian architect. Then herself 27 years old, Mary Maxwell was a tall, athletic active woman. In 1941 she became Shoghi Effendi's principal secretary in English. In 1951, Shoghi Effendi appointed her to the first International Bahá'í Council. Shoghi Effendi and Mary Maxwell never had children.


Mary Maxwell (renamed Rúhíyyih Khanum) later published parts of her personal diaries to show glimpses of Shoghi Effendi's life. She recalls a great deal of pain and suffering caused by his immediate family, and the friends in Haifa.

"If the friends only knew how the Master and the Guardian both suffered through the calibre of the local Bahá'ís. Some of them were good. But some were rotten. It's as if, when someone was unsound in the Covenant, they attacked the very body of the Manifestation, or the Exemplar, or the Guardian. I have seen this. It is like poison. He recovers from it, but it causes him untold suffering and it was from such things that the Master described Himself in His Will as 'this broken-winged bird.'"
(Rúhíyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl p. 160)
"They [The Master's family] have gone a long way to crushing every ounce of spirit out of the Guardian. By nature he is cheerful and energetic... But the perpetual strife of life with the Master's family... have clouded over him... Shoghi Effendi has been abused. That is the only word for it, abused, abused, abused. By now he has reached the point of a man fighting with his back to the wall. He says he will fight it out to the last round."
(Rúhíyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl p. 162)

Family members expelled

Throughout Shoghi Effendi's life, nearly all remaining family members and descendents of `Abdu'l-Bahá rebelled against his authority at some point, and were expelled by him as Covenant-breakers. Other branches of Bahá'u'lláh's family had already been declared Covenant-breakers in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament.

In the case of the expulsion of Ruhi Afnan, it received public attention, and created particular hardships for Shoghi Effendi's family life.

Unexpected death

The Guardian's Resting Place in London at the New Southgate Cemetery.

Shoghi Effendi's passing came unexpectedly in 1957 as he was traveling to Britain and caught the Asiatic flu. The news flashed around the world in the following cable:

"Shoghi Effendi beloved of all hearts sacred trust given believers by Master passed away sudden heart attack in sleep following Asiatic flu. Urge believers remain steadfast cling institution Hands lovingly reared recently reinforced emphasized by beloved Guardian. Only oneness heart oneness purpose can befittingly testify loyalty all National Assemblies believers departed Guardian who sacrificed self utterly for service Faith."
(Priceless Pearl, p. 447)

According to the framework of the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, it was not possible to appoint a successor, and the legislative body "possessing the exclusive right to legislate on matters not explicitly revealed" was not yet established in the world. Furthermore, The Guardian left no will as attested to by the Hands of the Cause, who were required to ratify his selection. All of the 27 living Hands of the Cause unanimously signed a statement shortly after the passing of Shoghi Effendi stating that he had died "without having appointed his successor..." (see full text).

Ministry of the Custodians

The suddenness of his death caught the Bahá'í world off-guard, and the Bahá'í Faith was temporarily stewarded by the Hands of the Cause, who elected among themselves nine "Custodians" to serve in Haifa as the head of the Faith. They reserved to the "entire body of the Hands of the Cause" the responsibility to determine the transition of the International Bahá'í Council into the Universal House of Justice, and that the Custodians reserved to themselves the authority to determine and expel Covenant-breakers. (Ministry of the Custodians, p. 34)

Election of the Universal House of Justice

At the end of the Ten Year Crusade, planned by Shoghi Effendi and concluding in 1963, the Universal House of Justice was first elected. As its first order of business, the Universal House of Justice evaluated the situation caused by the fact that the Guardian had not appointed a successor. It determined that under the circumstances, given the criteria for succession described in the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, there was no legitimate way for another Guardian to be appointed.

Therefore, although a succession of Guardians is envisioned in the Will and Testament, Shoghi Effendi remains the first and last occupant of this office. This is disputed by relatively small groups of Bahá'ís who claim that the Guardianship continues.

Major accomplishments

During his ministry the Bahá'í Religion developed into a global faith. From the time of appointment until his death, the Bahá'í Faith grew from 100,000 to 400,000 members, and countries of representation went from 35 to 250.

For thirty-six years Shoghi Effendi developed the worldwide Bahá'í community and its administrative structure. Before he assumed the leadership of the Faith, the Bahá'í community was relatively small and undeveloped. Shoghi Effendi strengthened and developed the Faith over many years to the point where it was capable of supporting the administrative structure envisioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Under Shoghi Effendi's direction, National Spiritual Assemblies were formed, and many thousands of Local Spiritual Assemblies sprang up as the Bahá'í Faith spread around the globe.

He also appointed 32 living Hands of the Cause, oversaw the completion of the superstructure of the Shrine of the Báb, appointed the International Bahá'í Council in 1951, launched the Ten Year Crusade in 1953, and acted as the official representative of the Faith to legal authorities in Palestine/Israel throughout many attempts by Covenant-breakers to take authority from him.

In a more "secular" cause, prior to World War II he supported the work of restoration-forester Richard St. Barbe Baker to reforest Palestine, introducing St. Barbe Baker to religious leaders from the major faiths of the region, from whom backing was secured for such an effort. (Baker, 1970)

Translations and letters

In his lifetime, Shoghi Effendi translated in English many of the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, as well as such invaluable historical texts as The Dawn-breakers. His significance is not just that of a translator, but he was also the designated and authoritative interpreter of the writings. His translations therefore are a guideline for all future translations of the Bahá'í writings.

The only actual book he ever wrote was God Passes By in 1944 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Faith. He also carried on a voluminous correspondence with believers from all parts of the globe. The total estimated number of letters that Shoghi Effendi wrote are over 30,000. His letters to individuals and assemblies have been compiled into several books, which stand out as significant sources of literature for Bahá'ís around the world.

He always signed his letters with simply "Shoghi." In 1922, soon after becoming Guardian, he requested that he be regarded as a "true brother," to be referred in letters and verbal addresses always as Shoghi Effendi, "for I desire to be known by no other name save the one our Beloved Master was wont to utter, a name which of all other designations is the most conducive to my spiritual growth and advancement." (Baha'i Administration, p. 25)


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All links retrieved January 27, 2023.


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