H-BahaiTranslations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 3, no. 2 (March, 1999)

Shoghi Effendi the Charity Fund

Translation and Commentary by Juan R. I. Cole,
History, University of Michigan

In a large manuscript in my possession that contains some of
Shoghi Effendi's largely unpublished early letters to the local spiritual
assembly of Tehran and then the Iran national assembly, there is a striking
emphasis put on the establishment of local and national Charity
Funds. Emphasis is too weak a word. He is quite insistent. Such funds
must help the poor and needy among non-Baha'is (aghyar), and are
"absolutely obligatory." Such charity work is identified with the
meaning of the phrase, 'service to mankind.' The Charity Fund must be
founded the moment a local assembly is. Administering this Fund and
teaching the faith are mentioned as the two paramount duties of the local
assembly. Until such funds are established, the 'most beloved of hopes'
will never show her face. They are "absolutely pivotal" and by them will
the cause be promulgated.

The emphasis found below on the LSA being in control of the funds and its
decisions about disbursement being final come because this step was
necessary to prevent corruption and also to prevent powerful local clans
from lobbying to have some "charity" thrown their way. In societies like
Iran that consist far more of families than of individuals, any
philanthropic or development effort is often stymied by the tendency of
anyone who oversees money to feel he has to share it with his cousins.
Shoghi Effendi was attempting to instill Weberian bureaucratic rationality
into this process and to fight such nepotism and corruption.

I know that the Iranian Baha'i community did major philanthropy and ran at
least one major hospital. So Shoghi Effendi's pronouncements were taken
seriously there. Although a few passages on helping the needy can be found
in Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration (Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1968 [1933]), they are not as explicit or emphatic as these Persian passages are:

“A careful study of Bahá'u'lláh's's and `Abdu'l-Bahá's's Tablets will reveal that other duties, no less vital to the interests of the Cause, devolve upon the elected representatives of the friends in every locality . . . They must do their utmost to extend at all times the helping hand to the poor, the sick, the disabled, the orphan, the widow, irrespective of color, caste and creed.” Baha’i Administration, pp. 37-38.

Despite this fleeting mention, I am not aware that there has been any similar strong
stress put on charity work in the U.S. administrative tradition. But I
wonder whether similar letters were sent to the U.S. NSA and never
published. (Apparently the vast majority of Shoghi Effendi's letters to
the US are still in the archives).

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