The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: Juan Cole <>
Subject: Shoghi Effendi believed 1963 would be the calamity year
Date: Thursday, July 08, 1999 1:56 AM

I note that we have come into some solid evidence of Shoghi Effendi
having believed that the Calamity would come in 1963, in the form of an
interview he gave A. E. Suthers around 1933, and which was published
shortly thereafter. S.E. said that "70 years" of the 100-year interval
before the onset of the Calamity had passed, which means that he thought
the clock began ticking in 1863. The expectation that 1963 would be the
big year was widespread in the Baha'i community in the 1930s-1950s, and
was reflected in the version of Esslemont then in use.
Of course, one has to decide whether Suthers was a reliable reporter of
what S.E. said. I personally think he was, and that it is highly
unlikely that an outsider could have made up the numbers invoked,
whereas 1863-1963 have obvious significance for Baha'is. The interview
is on the Web, and I quote it below
 A BAHA'I PONTIFF IN THE MAKING By A. E. Suthers, Ohio Wesleyan
University *Moslem World,* Volume 25, January 1935
 " . . . Ultimately we returned to the car upon the beach, and speeding
back to Haifa I put some questions to my kind host.
 "You are a university man?" "Yes, I am a graduate of the American
University of Beirut, and I spent also a year and a half at Oxford
studying political economy." "Did you ever take up psychology?" "No!"
"Or philosophy?" "No! I am not interested in abstract thought."
 "An illuminating admission, I thought, explaining in part the paradox
of his own person, that he could hold essentially abstract notions about
divine effulgences to the extent of impersonating divinity without
sensing either its futility or its humor. One would not expect
specialization in political economy or, as in the case of his assistant
and cousin, Ruhi Afnan, law, to be particularly pertinent in preparing
one for a hypostalic role.[6] 'Religion" he added, "is to be a social
 "I asked if he did not think a full-rounded and efficacious religion
should speak with confidence concerning sin, forgiveness, God,
immortality, and was immediately assured that Bahaism does all of that —
that it differs from other faiths not in fundamental principles, for
therein it agrees with all, but in its application of certain social
laws, which were divinely revealed to Baha'u'llah, thereby placing him
on a different and unique pedestal among God's prophets, as the last to
 "This revelation he has sent down in a book in Arabic, not yet
translated, 'because the time is not yet ripe, the world is not yet
ready to receive it. When it is translated, which will be after the
economic and spiritual catastrophe foretold by Baha'u'llah to occur
within a hundred years, seventy of which have passed, it will
revolutionize society. After that cataclysm Bahaism will come into its
 This exchange helps contextualize and make sense of the vaguer
pronouncements of Shoghi Effendi on the issue, e.g. in Messages to the
Baha'i World (p. 103) in the 1950s:
 "Against the background of these afflictive disturbances--the turmoil
and tribulations of a travailing age--we may well ponder the portentous
prophecies uttered well-nigh fourscore years ago, by the Author of our
Faith, as well as the dire predictions made by Him Who is the unerring
Interpreter of His teachings, all foreshadowing a universal commotion,
of a scope and intensity unparalleled in the annals of mankind. The
violent derangement of the world's equilibrium; the trembling that will
seize the limbs of mankind; the radical transformation of human society;
the rolling up of the present-day Order; the fundamental changes
affecting the structure of government; the weakening of the pillars of
religion; the rise of dictatorships; the spread of tyranny; the fall of
monarchies; the decline of ecclesiastical institutions; the increase of
anarchy and chaos; the extension and consolidation of the Movement of
the Left; the fanning into flame of the smouldering fire of racial
strife; the development of infernal engines of war; the burning of
cities; the contamination of the atmosphere of the earth--these stand
out as the signs and portents that must either herald or accompany the
retributive calamity which, as decreed by Him Who is the Judge and
Redeemer of mankind, must, sooner or later, afflict a society which, for
the most part, and for over a century, has turned a deaf ear to the
Voice of God's Messenger in this day--a calamity which must purge the
human race of the dross of its age-long corruptions, and weld its
component parts into a firmly-knit world-embracing Fellowship --a
Fellowship destined, in the fullness of time, to be incorporated in the
framework, and to be galvanized by the spiritualizing influences, of a
mysteriously expanding, divinely appointed Order, and to flower, in the
course of future Dispensations, into a Civilization, the like of which
mankind has, at no stage in its evolution, witnessed."

Juan Cole, History, U of Michigan
Buy *Modernity & Millennium: Genesis of Baha'i*
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