A study circle is a small group that meets to study the course materials from the Ruhi Institute. This collection contains resources related to study circles, as well as resources to assist anyone with deepening their understanding of the Baha’i Writings.
Baha’u’llah proclaimed to humanity that “these great oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent of the Most Great Justice.” 1 His teachings lay out a blueprint for establishing a just world civilization founded on international cooperation, and the paramount task of His successors has been to give people around the world access to this blueprint.
To that end, Shoghi Effendi worked tirelessly to build the capacity of Baha’is around the world to share Baha’u’llah’s message. The crucial channel for his guidance was letters to individuals and national bodies alike. The Advent of Divine Justice is one such letter—a particularly powerful one in its rallying cry for Baha’is to engage in a double crusade of improving the self and improving society. Though addressed to the Baha’is in the United States and Canada and written in 1938, its guidance applies to the life of every Baha’i and maintains its relevance today. This article seeks to aid your study of this significant message by commenting on its significance, reviewing its history, and summarizing some of its major themes.
Significance of The Advent of Divine Justice
For anyone seeking to expand their understanding of the Baha’i Faith, the writings of Shoghi Effendi are crucial, for he had the authority to interpret the Holy Writings. In particular, The Advent of Divine Justice and his other messages to the American community “form part of the primary literature of the Faith,” according to the Universal House of Justice. 2
Even within the canon of messages to the American community, The Advent of Divine Justice plays a special role as the “Baha’i Charter of Teaching,” in the words of Shoghi Effendi himself. 3 That is, it lays out how Baha’is should go about sharing the message of Baha’u’llah, explaining how each individual must prepare by cultivating their spiritual qualities. Indeed, it may be the most significant message of Shoghi Effendi in terms of guidance on how individual Baha’is should live, according to scholar Dr. Khazeh Fananapazir. 4
The Advent of Divine Justice thus remains pertinent today for every Baha’i striving to live a virtuous life and contribute to the betterment of society. Yet, to understand its full significance, it must also be placed in its historical context: it can be regarded as a sequel to The Tablets of the Divine Plan composed by Abdu’l-Baha.
History of The Advent of Divine Justice
Indeed, to fully appreciate Shoghi Effendi’s message, we need to go back to the years 1916 and 1917, when Abdu’l-Baha wrote a series of messages to the Baha’is of the United States and Canada. To these communities He entrusted the task of ensuring every country around the world received the Baha’i message.
Shoghi Effendi worked closely with these communities to prepare them to execute Abdu’l-Baha’s directions, guiding the formation and development of the National Spiritual Assembly they shared. By 1937, they were ready to take the first major step toward implementing The Tablets of theDivine Plan in the form of the “Seven Year Plan.” 5
To guide the U.S. and Canadian Baha’is as they undertook this plan, Shoghi Effendi sent them The Advent of Divine Justice. Its 126 paragraphs offer guidance on a variety of matters. The following sections highlight but a few of these: the special role, and special problems, of the United States and Canada; the imperative for global cooperation in the face of a disintegrating sociopolitical order; and the dependence of social change upon every individual’s spiritual advancement.
Special Role and Problems of the United States and Canada
Favored with special guidance from both Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, the Baha’is in the United States and Canada could have developed a feeling of superiority. But Shoghi Effendi warns them against such self-regard, pointing to the example of Persia being blessed as the birthplace of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. Why did the Manifestations appear in that land? Not because it was outstanding—but because it had a dire need for spiritual transformation.
Likewise, rather than the United States and Canada being “#1,” Shoghi Effendi indicates that these materially prosperous nations are in some ways the most spiritually degraded in the world. He points out several ills that afflict the United States in particular, which include “an excessive and binding materialism,” “one of the most virulent and long-standing forms of racial prejudice,” and “political corruption [and] lawlessness.” Materialism, racism, and corruption—this is a sobering roster. Yet, Americans have redeeming qualities “of high intelligence, of youthfulness, of unbounded initiative, and enterprise” that endow them with the capacity to transform their society.
In other words, the task of rebuilding the United States is formidable but within reach. Abdu’l-Baha says that North America will become “the land wherein the splendors of His light shall be revealed, where the mysteries of His Faith shall be unveiled, where the righteous will abide, and the free assemble.” 6
Sharing the Planet
As a country with immense power, the United States also needs to help rebuild the world, Shoghi Effendi asserts. He was writing about the era of isolationism following World War I, when Americans refused to participate in the League of Nations; today, the United States has (in my opinion) once again opted for isolation. But such an approach is not sustainable, as he reminds us:
The world is contracting into a neighborhood. America, willingly or unwillingly, must face and grapple with this new situation. . . . Paradoxical as it may seem, her only hope of extricating herself from the perils gathering around her is to become entangled in that very web of international association which the Hand of an inscrutable Providence is weaving.
With great power comes great responsibility: it is, he writes, America’s obligation to support an international federation and to collaborate with other nations in establishing “the solidarity, the unity, and maturity of mankind.”
Every nation, every person, has a role to play in building a new society from the ashes of the old. As things fall apart—World War II in Shoghi Effendi’s era; climate change, the pandemic, and other scourges in ours—Shoghi Effendi reminds us that we need to keep our eyes on that prize, a unified global society, rather than becoming disheartened:
Such simultaneous processes of rise and of fall, of integration and of disintegration, of order and chaos, with their continuous and reciprocal reactions on each other, are but aspects of a greater Plan, one and indivisible, whose Source is God, whose author is Baha’u’llah, the theater of whose operations is the entire planet, and whose ultimate objectives are the unity of the human race and the peace of all mankind.
As Baha’is, we are tasked with contributing to the forces of integration—with implementing the Divine Plan for a just, peaceful world.
The Double Crusade: Spiritual Prerequisites for Success
When taking on such an enormous mission, there is a risk of focusing on making external change to the exclusion of internal change. As the saying goes, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This brings us to Shoghi Effendi’s concept of the “double crusade.”
Shoghi Effendi explains that Baha’is must work “first to regenerate the inward life of their own community, and next to assail the long-standing evils that have entrenched themselves in the life of their nation.” That is, Baha’is need to scrutinize and remedy their own failings before trying to get others to change. Regenerating “the inward life” of the community must start with each individual working “to weed out, by every means in their power, those faults, habits, and tendencies which they have inherited from their own nation.”
This process of self-improvement involves cultivating three “spiritual prerequisites for success”:
Rectitude of conduct: “an abiding sense of undeviating justice”
Purity: “a chaste, pure, and holy life”
Elimination of prejudice: “a fraternity freed from that cancerous growth of racial prejudice”
Each of these prerequisites is thoroughly explained by Shoghi Effendi and worth studying in depth—but the third prerequisite stands out as “the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Baha’i community.” A follow-up article considers in greater depth the guidance The Advent of Divine Justice provides on our ongoing battle against racism.
Layli invites you to read more of her essays on https://layli.net. She lives with her husband, Sergey, in Alabama, where she works at Auburn University. In moments when she’s not writing, she most enjoys taking strolls with Sergey, during which they admire the region's natural beauty, from its year-round verdure to its abundant bugs.