15. Dire consequences of a religious leader's death
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Did you know that many of your forebears were quite likely killed in a religious war in some place at some time?
Conflict often resulted because of contention over divine leadership. These conflicts may seem distant concerns until we consider the numbers of wars fought both presently and historically for this reason. Which seems ironic to the many today, who believe that religion should be about love and peace.
However, when the life of a Holy Figure ends, the ramifications are grave. It is a dangerous time for the followers connected with His mission, who can expect retribution from those who felt adversely affected by their leader's teachings. For those anointed to continue a holy figure's mission into the future, succession is also fraught with danger, not just immediately but sometimes for centuries into the future.
Successions are of many kinds, like the birth right of the “first-born” child in Jewish law or the eldest son or daughter to a kingly throne.
Some situations require election to select a candidate by the vote of the majority. In religion the roles of God’s chosen Messengers are considered as theological appointments by Divine Decree, such as the call of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Baha'u'llah who were divinely appointed to their office in this manner.
However, when succession is disputed the consequences are grave. Both Moses (who preceded Jesus Christ by some 1300 years) and Jesus were rejected over their claimed right to be a 'prince and a judge over Israel'. Some six centuries later, Muhammad succeeded to the high office previously held by Jesus, immediately causing dispute over His station. Each event was, and remains, highly contentious.
Among the dramatic acts of the disciples who gathered to plan for the consequences of the execution of Christ, His successor quickly became a subject of contention. Today the Catholic Church claims a unique leadership role for the disciple Peter, who was believed to have been named by Jesus as head of the Apostles and a focus of their unity, later becoming the first Bishop of Rome. The rift between Catholic and Protestant festers even to today.
Muhammad is considered by Muslims as the natural successor to Christ, Who is the most mentioned figure in the Quran. Muhammad's succession became the central issue that split the Muslim community in the first century after His passing, even today resulting in violent contests between Shia and Sunni branches of Islam.
The core institution of a covenant between God and humanity finds expression in all Faiths, and underpins all Baha'u'llah's teachings upholding the principle of unity. It is a covenant that clearly defines future successor-ship, and is to be accepted by all believers.
It was to avoid disunity that the Will of Baha'u'llah clearly delineated as successor His son Abdu'l-Baha. Later, with the passing of Abdu'l-Baha the matter of succession was again paramount, becoming a source of disunity amongst those few who refused His Covenant and Testament.
Abdu'l-Baha nominated as successor, first His grandson Shoghi Effendi and thence a future divinely established, elected body, the Universal House of Justice.
"Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it would be better to be without it... Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion." --- Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks part Two, 40 014.
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