There’s an ancient tradition in Iran of regarding some things as “ritually” unclean. Any exposure to such things can cause spiritual illness, and requires that the exposed be ritually purified. If this sounds exotic, just think of baptism or crucifixion—two Christian examples of ritual purification. Among the carriers of such contagious impurity is the infidel—the unbeliever. The tradition goes back into Zoroastrian times, and has persisted as a doctrine of Shi’a Islam and the Bahá’í Faith:
Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire.
—Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words
Though the Bahá’í Faith doesn’t provide a ritual for cleansing Bahá’ís after exposure to unbelievers, it definitely teaches that exposure to “the ungodly” sickens the soul. The contagion appears to be quite common, though its severity appears to depend on the degree of ungodliness of the “carrier,” being at its worst when acquired from exposure to people that Bahá’ís call “Covenant-breakers.”
Covenant-breakers are the demons of the Bahá’í Faith. I don’t think there’s anything quite like them in any other religion, though they are somewhat reminiscent of the old Zoroastrian demons of death. They are outwardly ordinary people, though it has been claimed that a very unpleasant odor precedes them wherever they go.
In the following passage, Bahá’u’lláh appears to employ the words of his predecessor in warning his followers against becoming infected by these “manifestations of Satan”:
“Protect yourselves with utmost vigilance, lest you be entrapped in the snare of deception and fraud.” This is the advice of the Pen of Destiny. “Therefore, to avoid these people will be the nearest path by which to attain the divine good pleasure; because their breath is infectious, like unto poison. Endeavor to your utmost to protect yourselves, because Satan appears in different robes and appeals to everyone according to each person’s own way, until he becomes like unto him — then he will leave him alone.”
“…If you detect in any man the least perceptible breath of violation, shun him and keep away from him.” Then He says: “Verily, they are manifestations of Satan.”
Bahá’í World Faith, p. 431
Bahá’u’lláh was also reported by his son Abbas to have warned Bahá’ís throughout his writings about these wicked Covenant-breakers, likening their breath to snake venom:
Bahá’u’lláh, in all the Tablets and Epistles, forbade the true and firm friends from associating and meeting the violators of the Covenant of His Holiness, the Báb, saying that no one should go near them because their breath is like the poison of the snake that kills instantly.
`Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 430
This is no incidental, secondary doctrine. It is, rather, “one of the greatest and most fundamental principles” of the Bahá’í Faith:
… 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.
`Abdu’l-Bahá, Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, paragraph 38
One fascinating aspect of Covenant breaking is that it is presumed to be passed from parents to children:
children of Covenant-breakers, who have grown up with and still associate with their parents, are probably thoroughly infused with the Covenant-breaking spirit, and the friends must not associate with them until the Hands of the Cause have ascertained that these children have understood the sin of their parents and dissociated themselves from them.
a letter of the Universal House of Justice dated 5 February 1969 to an individual believer
It should be explained that descendants of Covenant-breakers who have not positively repudiated their forebears and sought readmittance to the Cause should be viewed with caution as they may well have received the poison of Covenant-breaking from their parents and would then have to be shunned by the friends.
a memorandum of the Universal House of Justice to the Hands of the Cause in the Holy Land dated 2 December 1971
For more juicy citations, see Non-association with Covenant-breakers, Directives from the Guardian, and What does the term “Covenant-breaking” mean?
Shunning of Covenant-breakers is typically done on an individual level, but Bahá’í institutions have also been seen exhibiting this practice. In a recent dispute between the United States National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) and the Second International Bahá’í Council, the WIPO panel that oversaw the dispute voiced some disapproval over the unwillingness of the conplainant (the NSA) to communicate with the other party:
Complainant did not send a copy of its request directly to Respondent, apparently believing Respondent had a “religious objection” to communicating with it. While the Panel appreciates Complainant’s sensitivity, it did not interpret the statement that Respondent had, consistent with Respondent’s religious beliefs, ignored Complainant’s cease and desist letter, to be an objection to receiving communications. Moreover, the Panel reminds Complainant of Rule 2(h): “Any communication by . . . a Party shall be copied to the other Party, the Panel and the Provider, as the case may be” (emphasis added).