A Covenant-breaker or the act of Covenant-breaking is a term used by Bahá'ís to refer to a particular form of what some might call "heresy".Actually it refers to disunity: "The specific mission of Bahá'u'lláh relates to world unity. Since it would be impossible for the Bahá'í Faith to unite the world if it were itself disunited, the role of the covenant as the guarantor of the unity of the Bahá'í community becomes inextricably linked with the goal of world unity: "It is evident that the axis of oneness of the world of humanity is the power of the Covenant and nothing else." (TDP 49, cf GPB 239, SWA 208-9).  Being declared a Covenant-breaker is done by the head of the Faith — which since 1963 refers to the elected nine-member Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Bahá'ís. Bahá'ís avoid association with them, even if the Covenant-breaker is a family member. The authority to declare a Bahá'í a Covenant-breaker resides solely with the head of the Bahá'í Faith.
Covenant-breaking does not refer to attacks from non-Bahá'ís or former Baha'is. Rather, it is in reference to internal campaigns of opposition where the Covenant-breaker is challenging the unity of the Faith, causing internal division, or by claiming or supporting an alternate succession of authority or administrative structure. The central purpose of the covenant is to prevent schism and dissension.  In a letter to an individual dated 23 March 1975, the Universal House of Justice wrote:
When a person declares his acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh as a Manifestation of God he becomes a party to the Covenant and accepts the totality of His Revelation. If he then turns round and attacks Bahá'u'lláh or the Central Institution of the Faith he violates the Covenant. If this happens every effort is made to help that person to see the illogicality and error of his actions, but if he persists he must, in accordance with the instructions of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, be shunned as a Covenant-breaker.
The term 'Covenant-breaker' or, in Arabic 'naqid al-mithaq' [pl. Naqidu 'l-mithaq], was first used by `Abdu'l-Bahá to describe the partisans of his brother Mírzá Muhammad `Alí, who challenged his leadership. In `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament, He appointed Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the religion and called for the eventual election of the Universal House of Justice, and defined in the same manner opposition to these two institutions as Covenant-Breaking. `Abdu'l-Bahá advised all Bahá'ís to shun anyone opposing the Covenant: "...one of the greatest and most fundamental principles of the Cause of God is to shun and avoid entirely the Covenant-breakers, for they will utterly destroy the Cause of God, exterminate His Law and render of no account all efforts exerted in the past."
Included categories of people
While most Covenant-breakers are involved in schismatic groups, that is not always the case. For example, a Bahá'í who refuses to follow guidance on treatment of Covenant-breakers is at risk of being named one. One article originally written for the Bahá'í Encyclopedia, characterized Covenant-breakers that have emerged in the course of Bahá'í history as belonging to one of four categories:
- Leadership challenge: These are persons who dispute the authority and legitimacy of the head of the religion and advance claims either for themselves or for another. The main examples of these are Mírzá Muhammad `Alí and Charles Mason Remey.
- Dissidence: Those who actively disagree with the policies and actions of the head of the faith without, however, advancing an alternative claim for leadership. This group consisted mostly of opponents of the Bahá'í administration such as Ruth White and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab.
- Disobedience: Those who disobey certain direct instructions from the head of the religion. Mostly the instruction in question is to cease to associate with a Covenant-breaker. Examples of this type include most of the descendants of `Abdu'l-Bahá during Shoghi Effendi's time.
- Apostates who maliciously attack the Bahá'í Faith. Examples include Ávárih and Níkú.
Excluded categories of people
Shoghi Effendi wrote to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada in 1957:
People who have withdrawn from the Cause because they no longer feel that they can support its Teachings and Institutions sincerely, are not Covenant-breakers -- they are non-Bahá'ís and should just be treated as such. Only those who ally themselves actively with known enemies of the Faith who are Covenant-breakers, and who attack the Faith in the same spirit as these people, can be considered, themselves, to be Covenant-breakers.
Beyond this, many other relationships to the Bahá'í Faith exist, both positive and negative. Covenant-breaking does not apply to most of them. The following is a partial list of those who could not rightly be termed Covenant-breakers:
- Members of other religions or no religion--with or without any particular relationship to the Bahá'í Faith.
- Bahá'ís who simply leave the religion. (see above)
- Bahá'ís who, in the estimation of the head of the religion have insufficiently understood the nature of the covenant from the start. These are sometimes "disenrolled" and are considered to have never actually been Bahá'ís, given their fundamental diversion from this core Bahá'í doctrine.
Bábís are generally regarded as another religion altogether. Since Covenant-breaking presumes that one has submitted oneself to a covenant and then broken it, and Bábís never recognized or swore allegiance to Bahá'u'lláh, they are not Covenant-breakers.
Followers of Subh-i-Azal, Bahá'u'lláh's half-brother who tried to poison him, engaged in active opposition to Bahá'ís, and Shoghi Effendi did inform Bahá'ís that they should avoid contact with his descendants, writing that "No intelligent and loyal Baha'i would associate with a descendant of Azal, if he traced the slightest breath of criticism of our Faith, in any aspect, from that person. In fact these people should be strenuously avoided as having an inherited spiritual disease -- the disease of Covenant-breaking!".
Covenant-Breaking in Shoghi Effendi's immediate family
Through the influence of Bahiyyih Khanum, the eldest daughter of Bahá'u'lláh, everyone in the household initially rallied around Shoghi Effendi after the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá. For several years his brother Husayn and several cousins served him as secretaries. The only ones publicly opposing him were Mirza Muhammad-Ali and his followers, who were declared Covenant-breakers by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Contrary to `Abdu'l-Bahá's specific instruction, certain family members established illicit links with those declared Covenant-breakers by `Abdu'l-Bahá. After Bahiyyih Khanum died in 1932, Shoghi Effendi's eldest sister--Ruhangiz --married a son of Siyyid Ali Afnan. Bahá'u'lláh's son-in-law was, thus, a long-standing enemy of `Abdu'l-Bahá (who had declared him a Covenant-breaker.) Through Ruhangiz's efforts, Shoghi Effendi's other sister and his cousin Thurayya also married sons of Siyyid Ali Afnan. Presumably being faced with a choice between shunning their disobedient family members and being themselves disobedient to `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, his cousins, aunts and uncles chose the latter.
After years of silence on these developments, cables sent by Shoghi Effendi on 2 November 1941 provide background to developments among family members. Ruhi Afnan, Shoghi Effendi's cousin through `Abdu'l-Bahá's daughter Tuba:
- "Ruhi's sister married Covenant-breaker Faydi whose mother joined and supported arch-enemy Muhammad-`Ali and whose father `Abdu'l-Bahá denounced openly and repeatedly as His deadly enemy. Ruhi's family concurred. Inform all believers all manner communication excommunicated family forbidden."
Then in a 1950 cable:
- "Inform friends that Ruhi, his mother, with Ruha, his aunt, and their families, not content with years of disobedience and unworthy conduct, are now showing open defiance." (Citadel of Faith, p. 87)
And in 1953:
- "Treacherous Ruhi Afnan, not content with previous disobedience, correspondence with Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, contact with old Covenant-breakers, sale, in conjunction with other members of family, of sacred property purchased by Founder of Faith, and allowing his sister to marry son of `Abdu'l-Bahá's enemy, is now openly lecturing on Bahá'í movement, claiming to be its exponent and is misrepresenting the teachings and deliberately causing confusion in minds of authorities and the local population. Inform National Assemblies." (Messages to the Bahá'í World - 1950-1957, p. 48)
Later, Ruhi was presented with a copy of Sohrab's book about his excommunication:
- "… under ordinary circumstances he would have been very much elated, and therefore thankful to see someone make such records of his services to the Cause, but that the references to the Guardian and the Administration changed his attitude completely. He did not wish to be defended; he felt that he must suffer in silence and be true to the Master’s last will and testament. Then Ruhi Effendi referred to Ahmad as being in the same plight as himself, but reacting differently. He thought this very regrettable." [p. 281]
Concerning Munib Shahid, Shoghi Effendi's cousin through `Abdu'l-Bahá's daughter Ruha, Shoghi Effendi sent the following cable to the Bahá'í world in November 1944:
- "Monib Shahid, grandson of both `Abdu'l-Bahá and the King of Martyrs, married according to the Moslem rites the daughter of a political exile who is nephew of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. This treacherous act of alliance with enemies of the Faith merits condemnation of entire Bahá'í world." (Bahá'í News, No. 172)
Concerning his own brother Husayn, Shoghi Effendi sent the following cable to the Bahá'í world in April 1945:
- "My faithless brother Husayn, after long period of dishonourable conduct, has abandoned the Master's home to consort with his sister and other Covenant-breakers." (Bahá'í News, No. 174)
Concerning his own brother Riaz, the following cable was sent in December 1951:
- "With feeling profound concern, grief, indignation, am compelled disclose Bahá'í world recent developments Holy Land furnishing further incontestable proof relationship established old and new Covenant-breakers demonstrating increasing boldness, marked, tragic decline in character and spiritual condition grandchildren `Abdu'l-Bahá. Their shameful attitude and conduct receiving approbation their elders. Evidences multiplying attesting Ruhi's increasing rebelliousness, efforts exerted my eldest sister pave way fourth alliance members family Siyyid Ali involving marriage his granddaughter with Ruha's son and personal contact recently established my own treacherous, despicable brother Riaz with Majdi'd-Din, redoubtable enemy Faith, former henchman Muhammad-'Ali, Archbreaker Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant. Convey information all National Assemblies." (Messages to the Bahá'í World - 1950-1957, p. 16)
He dispatched a cable concerning his younger sister in December 1941:
- "Sister Mehrangis [Mehrangiz] followed example Ruhi's [Ruhi] sister Justice demands announce believers her expulsion." (Unfolding Destiny, p. 149)
Most of the groups regarded by the larger group of Bahá'ís as Covenant-breakers originated in the claims of Charles Mason Remey to the Guardianship in 1960. The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá states that Guardians should be lineal descendants of Bahá'u'lláh, that each Guardian must select his successor during his lifetime, and that the nine Hands of the Cause of God permanently stationed in the holy land must approve the appointment by majority vote. Bahá'ís interpret lineal descendency to mean physical familial relation to Bahá'u'lláh, of which Mason Remey was not.
Almost all of Bahá'ís accepted the determination of the Hands of the Cause that upon the death of Shoghi Effendi, he died "without having appointed his successor". There was an absence of a valid descendant of Bahá'u'lláh who could qualify under the terms of `Abdu'l-Bahá's will. Later the Universal House of Justice, initially elected in 1963, made a ruling on the subject that it was not possible for another Guardian to be appointed.
In 1960 Remey, a Hand of the Cause himself, retracted his earlier position, and claimed to have been coerced. He claimed to be the successor to Shoghi Effendi. He and the small number of people who followed him were expelled from the Faith by the Hands of the Cause. Those close to Remey claimed that he went senile in old age, and by the time of his death he was largely abandoned, with his most prominent followers fighting amongst themselves for leadership. [Citation needed.]
The largest group of the remaining followers of Remey, members of the so called"Orthodox Bahá'í Faith", believe that legitimate authority passed from Shoghi Effendi to Mason Remey to Joel Marangella. [Citation needed.] They, therefore, regard the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel to be illegitimate, and its members and followers to be Covenant-breakers. [Citation needed.]
The present descendants of expelled members of Bahá'u'lláh's family have not specifically been declared Covenant-breakers, though they mostly do not associate themselves with the Bahá'í religion. [Citation needed.] A small group of Bahá'ís in Northern New Mexico believe that these descendants are eligible for appointment to the Guardianship and are waiting for such a direct descendant of Bahá'u'lláh to arise as the rightful Guardian.
There is also a small group in Montana, originally formed around the personality of Leland Jensen, who claimed a status higher than that of the Guardian. His failed apocalyptic predictions and unsuccessful efforts to reestablish the Guardianship and the administration were apparent by his death in 1996. A dispute among Jensen's followers over the identity of the Guardian resulted in another division in 2001.[Citation needed.]
- The Will And Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p 20
- The Covenant, and Covenant-breaker, by Moojan Momen
- Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 64
- Shoghi Effendi, From letter dated 9 December 1948 to an individual believer
- From Gaslight to Dawn 10-19
- `Abdu'l-Bahá (1992) [1901-08]. The Will And Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Mona Vale, N.S.W, Australia: Bahá'í Publications Australia. ISBN 0-909991-47-2.
- Bahá'u'lláh (1992) . The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-85398-999-0.
- Balyuzi, Hasan (2000). Bahá'u'lláh, King of Glory (Paperback ed.). Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-328-3.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1974). Bahá'í Administration. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-166-3.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-020-9.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1976). Principles of Bahá'í Administration (4th ed. ed.). London, UK: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-900125-13-6.
- Rabbani, Ruhiyyih (Ed.) (1992). The Ministry of the Custodians 1957-1963. Bahá'í World Centre. ISBN 0-85398-350-X.
- Rabbani, Ruhiyyih (1969). The Priceless Pearl (Hardcover ed.). London, UK: Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 2000. ISBN 1-870989-91-0.
- Taherzadeh, Adib (1972). The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-344-5.
- The Covenant and Covenant-breaker - Article by Moojan Momen on the history, purpose, and power of the Covenant. Includes history of Covenant breakers, the three categories, and references for further study.
- A Compilation: Non-Association with Covenant-breakers - From the Continental Board of Counselors to the NSAs of Alaska, Canada and the US, 7 December 1999.