(Transcript of a talk as part of six talks given during a week-long course in February of 2004 on the “World Order of Baha'u'llah”. The event was sponsored by the NSA of Italy. The notes also include questions raised by the participants and Mr. Nakhjavani’s answers. This text, excluding the quotations section, was published in 2005 under the title "Towards World Order". A chapter on “The Covenant” was added in the 2007 edition.)
On October 18th 1927, referring to the Declaration of Trust and By-Laws of the National Spiritual Assembly, Shoghi Effendi wrote the following addressing that National Assembly: "You can but faintly imagine how comforting a stimulant and how helpful a guide its publication and circulation will be to those patient and toiling workers in Eastern lands... You can hardly realise how substantially it would contribute to pave the way for the elaboration of the beginnings of the constitution of the worldwide Bahá'í Community that will form the permanent basis upon which the blest and sanctified edifice of the first International House of Justice will securely rest and flourish."- (BA p.143). In a letter referring to the same subject, addressed to the Bahá'ís in Iran, Shoghi Effendi referred to the need for the Persian National Assembly to have its own constitution, and pointed out that the constitution of National Assemblies is the Greater Law of God's Holy Faith, while the constitution of the Universal House of Justice is its Most Great Law. In 1934, when he wrote his "Dispensation", Shoghi Effendi once again referred to the future constitution of the Supreme Body of the Faith.
When the Universal House of Justice was formed in 1963, it was able to launch its first teaching and consolidation Plan in April 1964, which was the Nine-Year Plan. One of the goals of that Plan, set aside as an objective of the World Centre, was to draft the Constitution governing the operation of the House of Justice, as well as the affairs of the worldwide Bahá'í Community. In view of the mounting cares and responsibilities of the Universal House of Justice, and the meticulous concentration required to produce such a vitally important document, it took most of the nine years under this first Plan to bring this project to conclusion.
On November 26th 1972, the following message was sent to all National Spiritual Assemblies: "WITH GRATEFUL JOYOUS HEARTS ANNOUNCE ENTIRE BAHÁ'Í WORLD ADOPTION PROFOUNDLY SIGNIFICANT STEP IN UNFOLDMENT MISSION SUPREME ORGAN BAHÁ'Í WORLD COMMONWEALTH THROUGH FORMULATION CONSTITUTION UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE. AFTER OFFERING HUMBLE PRAYERS GRATITUDE ON DAY COVENANT AT THREE SACRED THRESHOLDS BAHJI HAIFA, MEMBERS GATHERED COUNCIL CHAMBER PRECINCTS HOUSE BLESSED MASTER, APPENDED THEIR SIGNATURES, FIXED SEAL ON INSTRUMENT ENVISAGED WRITINGS BELOVED GUARDIAN, HAILED BY HIM AS MOST GREAT LAW FAITH BAHÁ'U'LLÁH. FULLY ASSURED MEASURE JUST TAKEN WILL FURTHER REINFORCE TIES BINDING WORLD CENTER TO NATIONAL LOCAL COMMUNITIES THROUGHOUT WORLD, RELEASE FRESH ENERGIES, INCREASE ENTHUSIASM CONFIDENCE VALIANT WORKERS HIS DIVINE VINEYARD, LABORING ASSIDUOUSLY BRING MANKIND UNDER SHELTER HIS ALL-GLORIOUS COVENANT"- (MUHJ p.229)
The constitution of the Universal House of Justice was published as a separate document, comprising 14 pages. It was also published in Bahá'í World, Volume XV, Pages 555-564. It has two sections: "The Declaration of Trust", which consists of 5 pages, and the "By-Laws", which consists of 9 pages. The Declaration of Trust has a preamble which is a quotation from the opening paragraphs of Bahá'u'lláh's "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf", described by Shoghi Effendi as: "the last outstanding Tablet revealed by the Pen of Bahá'u'lláh."- (GPB p.219)
This preamble, consisting of Bahá'u'lláh's own Words, I will proceed to quote in full: "IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE ONE, THE IMCOMPARABLE, THE ALL-POWERFUL, THE ALL-KNOWING, THE ALL-WISE. The light that is shed from the heaven of bounty, and the benediction that shineth from the dawning-place of the will of God, the Lord of the Kingdom of Names, rest upon Him Who is the Supreme Mediator, the Most Exalted Pen, Him Whom God hath made the dawning-place of His most excellent names and the dayspring of His most exalted attributes. Through Him the light of unity hath shone forth above the horizon of the world, and the law of oneness hath been revealed amidst the nations, who, with radiant faces, have turned towards the Supreme Horizon, and acknowledged that which the Tongue of Utterance hath spoken in the Kingdom of His knowledge: 'Earth and heaven, glory and dominion, are God's, the Omnipotent, the Almighty, the Lord of grace abounding!"- (ESW p.3)
It is significant that in this passage, Bahá'u'lláh refers to "the light of unity [that] hath shone forth above the horizon of the world, and the law of oneness [that] hath been revealed amidst the nations". Likewise, the reference in the last sentence to "earth and heaven" belonging to God, is also significant, when we recall the words in the Revelation of St. John, which I have already quoted before, giving the promise that a new earth and a new heaven will be manifested. The "earth", beyond any doubt, refers to the earthly civilization that the Cause of God is destined to establish, and the "heaven", mentioned by Bahá'u'lláh in this passage, is undoubtedly the heaven of His new Revelation.
After this potent introductory passage, revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, which is so appropriate as an opening statement to His Most Great Law, the Universal House of Justice expresses its elation and gratitude with the following sentence: "With joyous and thankful hearts we testify to the abundance of God's Mercy, to the perfection of His justice and to the fulfilment of His Ancient Promise". - (CUHJ p.1)
The next paragraph is of 17 lines, in which the following points are solemnly and explicitly made:
1. The Station of Bahá'u'lláh, is clearly defined as described in titles given to Him by Shoghi Effendi in "God Passes By", pages 93-4, such as: "the Fountainhead of Justice, the Creator of a New World Order, the Inspirer and Founder of a World Civilization, the Judge, the Law-Giver, and the Unifier and Redeemer of all mankind".
2. The next point is a reference to Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant and the vital function it performed after His Ascension by canalising the forces revealed by the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh throughout the Heroic and Formative Ages of the Faith.
3. The Universal House of Justice is then specifically mentioned as one of the two Successors of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, under that same Covenant, and the responsibility ordained for it to "safeguard the unity" of the followers of the Faith, and to: "maintain the integrity and flexibility of its teachings", as clearly stipulated by Shoghi Effendi in his "Dispensation"- (WOB p.148).
The next paragraph is a passage extracted from the Tablet known as "Lawh-i-Maqhœd", revealed in 'Akká, and described by Shoghi Effendi as one of the Tablets revealed by Him as His Mission drew to a close and contained "precepts and principles which lie at the very core of His Faith"- (GPB p.216). This passage is highly relevant as it defines the "fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion". In Bahá'u'lláh's words, this purpose is: "to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race" and "to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men". In the same passage He describes His Faith as "The Straight Path" and I think, His New World Order as "the fixed and immovable foundation" whose "strength" can never be "impaired" nor its structure "undermined" by the "changes and chances of the world" and the "revolution of countless centuries".
The next paragraph is a quotation from 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament in which the sphere of responsibility of the House of Justice has been defined, namely to decide on "all that is not expressly recorded" in the Most Holy Book, and to be the Body to which "everyone must turn".
The following paragraph clearly determines what constitutes "the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice", and which "are its bedrock foundation". These have been identified as "the revealed Word of Bahá'u'lláh" and "the interpretations and expositions" recorded by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi as Interpreters of the Revealed Word. This sentence clearly specifies that Shoghi Effendi was, after 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "the sole authority for the interpretation of Bahá'í Scripture". This sentence further confirms the refusal of the House of Justice to engage in interpreting the Writings.
The last sentence of this paragraph is extremely weighty, as it categorically states: "the authority of these Texts is absolute and immutable until such time as Almighty God shall reveal His new Manifestation, to Whom will belong all authority and power".
The paragraph that follows, calls to mind the passing of Shoghi Effendi without appointing a Guardian of the Cause to succeed him. In view of this circumstance, the Universal House of Justice declares that it is now the "Head of the Faith and its Supreme Institution".
Therefore, the coordination of the work of the Hands of the Cause, the extension into the future of their functions of protection and propagation, and the receipt and disbursement of the Huququ'llah, would, of necessity, devolve upon the Universal House of Justice.
A word of explanation about the offering and receipt of the Huququ'llah would, I feel, be appropriate. As you know, the Law of the Huquq was revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in paragraph 97 on page 55. In this verse, Bahá'u'lláh stipulates that the Huquq "belonged to God" and had "to be rendered unto Him". Nowhere in the Aqdas, or in His other Writings, does Bahá'u'lláh specify explicitly who should be the recipient of this offering after His Ascension. It was clear, however, that whoever had been specified as Successor of Bahá'u'lláh, namely, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who was the Centre of the Covenant to Whom all must turn, would be, beyond any doubt, the recipient of such payments. In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá provides for this money offering to be paid "through the Guardian of the Cause of God"- (WTA p.15). This was so because Shoghi Effendi was the institution to whom all were to turn after the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Following the same pattern, the Universal House of Justice, in its capacity as Successor, not only to Shoghi Effendi, but also to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahá'u'lláh, found that it was logically and correctly the Institution destined to receive and expend the Huququ'llah, in accordance with the spirit and purpose of this Fund, as clearly enunciated in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament, namely "the diffusion of the Fragrances of God and the exaltation of His Word, for benevolent pursuits and for the common weal"- (WTA p.15). In the light of these circumstances, the following Words of Bahá'u'lláh acquire added significance: "There is a prescribed ruling for the Huququ'llah. After the House of Justice hath come into being, the law thereof will be made manifest, in conformity with the Will of God."-(CH no59)
We have so far discussed the contents of the first six paragraphs of the text of the Constitution. These six paragraphs are followed by five sections which are described as "powers and duties with which the Universal House of Justice has been invested". I must explain here that the Universal House of Justice commissioned its Research Department to compile and present to it each and every statement made in the original texts of Bahá'u'lláh, of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and of Shoghi Effendi on the subject of the Universal House of Justice, its powers, and its duties. Many of these texts had already been translated into English or, as in the case of the writings of Shoghi Effendi, were already available in English. However, a great deal had to be translated and supplied to the House of Justice for its consideration. The contents of these five sections are all, without any exception, based on these texts. I hope that it will not be in the too distant future, when students and scholars of the Faith will be able to identify the powers and duties tabulated in these sections, and to find their roots in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and the interpretive expositions made by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.
It is beyond the scope of my presentation to provide you with a list of references, showing the source of each of the functions of the Supreme Body, as set forth in these five sections. However I will refer to each section separately, and will give you my commentary on any aspect which may need some clarification.
SECTION ONE: "To ensure the preservation of the Sacred Texts and to safeguard their inviolability; to analyse, classify, and coordinate the Writings; and to defend and protect the Cause of God and emancipate it from the fetters of repression and persecution;"- (CUHJ p.5). The preservation of the Sacred Texts is clearly a primary responsibility of the Head of the Faith. This is why Shoghi Effendi constructed the International Archives Building, and later the Universal House of Justice added an extension to that Edifice in order to provide the latest scientific facilities available to preserve papers, documents and artefacts. The word 'inviolability', used in this connection, refers to the need to protect the Sacred Texts from any physical harm, as well as to uphold the sacredness of the Holy Writings, and to preserve their integrity.
The duty to analyse, classify, and coordinate the Writings is of course one which is currently being discharged by the Research Department, for and on behalf of the Universal House of Justice. These functions have their home in the present Edifice around the Arc which is known to the friends as the Centre for the Study of the Texts.
The duty of defending and protecting the Cause of God, is clearly implicit in the Words of Bahá'u'lláh calling on the Men of the House of Justice in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: "O ye Men of Justice! Be ye, in the realm of God, shepherds unto His sheep and guard them... even as ye would guard your own sons"- (KA para52). This section ends with the statement that in the House of Justice is vested the responsibility to emancipate the Faith "from the fetters of repression and persecution", as we discussed yesterday. The second stage in the evolution of the Faith is its emancipation from the fetters of repression. This emancipation will take place when the religious authorities in a given country pronounce and regard the laws and principles of the Faith as separate from and alien to the official established religion of that country. As you know, the steps taken by National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world, and the Bahá'í International Community with its seat in New York—all under the direction of the Universal House of Justice—have succeeded in protecting the Persian Bahá'í community, from the professed intention of the Iranian government to destroy the Cause of God, root and branch, in Bahá'u'lláh's native land. It is of course hoped that these efforts will eventually lead to the emancipation and deliverance of the Persian Bahá'í community from the clutches of a traditional enemy, which has sought to strangulate it, ever since its inception sixteen decades ago.
SECTION TWO: This entire section deals with the obligations of the Universal House of Justice in the three fields of proclamation, expansion and consolidation. A partial and initial implementation of the provisions of this section can be seen through the release of the "Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas" and subsequently the translation into English of its entire text, supported by copious annotations; the dissemination of newly translated texts from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, of the Báb, and of 'Abdu'l-Bahá; and more particularly the publication of the book entitled "The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh" as well as of its two open letters to the peoples of the world and to Religious Leaders.
The reference in this section to the promotion of the spiritual qualities that must characterize individual and collective Bahá'í life, is best exemplified by the importance attached to teaching institutes, study circles, devotional meetings, children's classes, and the division of each homefront into clusters, as called for under the current Plan. As to the last part of this section, regarding cordiality and peace among the nations and the advancement and betterment of the world, these objectives for the time being, on the international level, are being spear-headed by our Bahá'í International Community offices in New York, in Geneva, and selected capitals in Europe.
SECTION THREE: The next section deals with the vital responsibilities of the House of Justice as the highest legislative body of the Faith, as well as the institution to which all must turn for the solution of problems that have caused differences among the friends and for the elucidation of questions that are obscure. As we have already discussed, these functions are embedded in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and the provisions of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
The latter part of the section begins with the duty incumbent upon the House of Justice to safeguard the rights, freedom and initiative of individuals. This opens the way for individuals, if they feel that their essential rights have been trampled upon by decisions of institutions, on the local or national level within a given country, to appeal to the Universal House of Justice for redress of grievances.
The last clause of this section deals with the development of countries and the stability of states. These functions can be discharged effectively by the Universal House of Justice when the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh has been ushered in, the Faith universally acknowledged, and the Universal House of Justice, as the Supreme Organ of that Order, recognised among the nations.
SECTION FOUR: The fourth section is a pronouncement on the duty of the House of Justice to apply the Laws of the Faith as they would progressively become binding (as happened in the case of the Law of Huququ'lláh and the ordinances related to obligatory prayers and fasting), and to uphold the ideal of rectitude of conduct which as Shoghi Effendi has written has: "implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness"—standards that must distinguish "every phase of the life of the Bahá'í Community"-(ADJ p.19).
This section includes the development of the Spiritual and Administrative Centre of the Bahá'í Faith in the Holy Land. The establishment of the International Teaching Centre following the appointment of Boards of Counsellors, as well as the addition of assistants to Auxiliary Board Members, the erection of new buildings round the Arc, the extension of the gardens in Bahjí, the construction of the Terraces surrounding the Shrine of the Báb, the establishment of two new pilgrim houses in Bahjí and in Haifa, are among some of the more obvious developments of the World Centre that have taken place during the past four decades.
There is a very interesting function included in this section as one of the duties of the House of Justice. It is to ensure that no institution within the Cause may abuse its privileges nor decline in the exercise of its rights and prerogatives. This function of the House of Justice requires both vigilant alertness and appropriate intervention when the vital interests of the Faith are disregarded. The final part of this section deals with the administration of the funds and properties of the Faith, a function which does not need any amplification.
SECTION FIVE: The last section deals with the judiciary powers of the Universal House of Justice in adjudicating disputes, settling differences, enforcing decisions, and applying sanctions, and finally as a crowning obligation, the summing up of the House's judiciary responsibilities with these challenging words: "to be the exponent and guardian of that Divine Justice which can alone ensure the security of, and establish the reign of law and order in, the world". This ends the 5 sections outlining the duties and powers of the Universal House of Justice.
The legislative powers stipulated above will remain vested permanently in the Universal House of Justice. However, none of the provisions prevent the Universal House of Justice from making it possible for separate institutions to be established, on the international level, to assume the executive and judicial responsibilities now discharged by the House of Justice itself.
The paragraph which follows introduces a quotation from Shoghi Effendi's "Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh". In this paragraph three titles for the Members of the House of Justice are given, namely "the Men of Justice", "the people of Bahá...mentioned in the Book of Names", and the "Trustees of God" who are "daysprings of authority". The title "the Men of Justice" is taken from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraph 52. The title "people of Bahá, mentioned in the Book of Names" is taken from the Tablet of Carmel- (GWB p.16). The title "Trustees of God" who are "daysprings of authority" is taken from the Tablet of Bahá'u'lláh known as "The Glad-Tidings". The passage appears in the "Thirteenth Glad-Tidings". It is under the same thirteenth 'Glad-Tidings' that Bahá'u'lláh says that: "all matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice". It is likewise in this same passage of the 'Glad-Tidings' that Bahá'u'lláh states: "that which traineth the world is justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment". Finally it is in this same section that Bahá'u'lláh refers to the members of the House of Justice as "the recipients of divine inspiration from the unseen kingdom"- (TB p.27).
Regarding the title of the Trustees of the House of Justice, as revealed in the Tablet of Carmel, many friends have asked what the "Book of Names" is, where mention is made of these Trustees. There is a Tablet revealed by The Báb, which is known as 'The Book of Names', but no such reference is found in that document. I will share with you my own understanding of this reference. The word 'Names', in the original, is "Asmá". This word has been translated by Shoghi Effendi sometimes as "Names" and at other times as "Titles", depending on the context. The first would denote divine and heavenly qualities and attributes in such phrases as 'God's Most Excellent Names'. In the latter sense, i.e. 'Titles', it could apply to appellations or accolades bestowed on an individual, as a sign of praise or rank. In the Bahá'í Writings we find such titles as "Centre of the Covenant", "Guardian of the Cause of God", "Hands of the Cause of God", "Houses of Justice", "Trustees of the Merciful", "Knights of Bahá'u'lláh" etc... Thus, the "Book of Names" could be God's Mystical Book in which are recorded the titles and accolades bestowed on His ministers, as well as on promoters, protectors, and/or defenders of His Cause, either individually or as a collective group.
As to the quotation from the 'Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh', beginning with the words "In the conduct of the administrative affairs..." three important points have been incorporated by Shoghi Effendi in this passage. The first is that the members of the Universal House of Justice in the discharge of their functions should be governed by the prayerful promptings of their conscience, and not by the feelings or convictions of those who directly or indirectly elect them, clearly implying thereby, that they are responsible before God and not to those whom they represent. This is a clear negation of one of the essential features of a democratic system. All democracies make the elected responsible to the electorate. This is why referendums are resorted to in democratic systems of government, in order to determine what the popular vote decides on a given issue.
The second point is that they must acquaint themselves with the conditions prevailing among the community. This duty counter-balances referendums, and is a provision incorporated in the system of Bahá'í Administration in order to offset the withdrawal of authority from the mass of the electorate. Obviously the members of the House of Justice have the obligation individually to be alert to the general sentiments and opinions of the community, and institutionally to depend on faithful and sympathetic agencies, such as the Counsellors, to share with them the trends of thought and feeling among the rank and file of the believers.
The third point is the quotation from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, giving the assurance that: "God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth". This is followed by Shoghi Effendi's understanding that the elected members—and I am stressing the word elected in this passage—are "the recipients of the divine guidance which is at once the life-blood and ultimate safeguard of this Revelation".
As you all know, Shoghi Effendi was appointed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to be the Head and member of the Universal House of Justice. He was not an elected member of the Supreme Body. Shoghi Effendi, as interpreter of the Teachings is assuring us that the elected members are recipients of the promised divine guidance.
The last paragraph of the Declaration of Trust, states the date on which the Universal House of Justice was first elected, in accordance with the provisions of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and in response to the call of the Hands of the Cause of God, who were described by Shoghi Effendi as: "the Chief Stewards of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic World Commonwealth".
This paragraph also quotes two titles given by Shoghi Effendi to the Universal House of Justice, namely the "crowning glory" of the administrative institutions of Bahá'u'lláh and the "nucleus and forerunner of His World Order".
Following this paragraph is a space where the nine members who were in office on the 26th November 1972, namely the Day of the Covenant, have signed their names in alphabetical order. The last paragraph gives the date of the document and that it was signed in the City of Haifa. The last feature of the document is the impression of the seal of the Universal House of Justice.
Annexed to the Declaration of Trust, is the nine-page document, which contains the By-Laws of the Constitution. The preamble to the By-Laws is followed by eleven main clauses, as follows:
1. MEMBERSHIP IN THE BAHÁ'Í COMMUNITY
2. LOCAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLIES
3. NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLIES
4. OBLIGATIONS OF MEMBERS OF SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLIES
5. THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE- (consisting of six sub-clauses).
6. BAHÁ'Í ELECTIONS
7. THE RIGHT OF REVIEW
9. THE BOARDS OF COUNSELLORS
10. THE AUXILLARY BOARDS
Some of these clauses, which deal with general issues, such as membership in the community, Local and National Assemblies and their obligations, and the methods of Bahá'í elections and appeals, I will not go into, as they are matters of common knowledge and experience of Bahá'ís in every land. I will confine my comments to those clauses which deal directly with the work and sphere of authority of the Universal House of Justice.
We will first deal with the brief preamble which gives a concise and complete definition of the Administrative Order, as it is operating in the Bahá'í World at this time. The first paragraph refers to the House of Justice as the "Supreme Institution of the Administrative Order". This Order, the preamble states, consists of two parts: (1) Elected Councils on local, national and international levels, invested with all three powers, namely, legislative, executive and judicial, and (2) Individual believers appointed for the specific tasks of protecting and propagating the Faith.
The second paragraph defines the relationship of the Administrative Order to the World Order, the former being the nucleus and pattern of the latter. This Administrative Order is described as both divinely propelled and organically expanding. This development will be realised through the establishment of auxiliary and subordinate agencies, as well as by the multiplication and diversification of Bahá'í functions—all designed to promote the progress of the human race.
We have to pass over the first four clauses as indicated earlier, and deal with clause V, which, as mentioned, has six sub-clauses. The introduction to this clause states that the membership of the Body consists of "nine men" elected from the world-wide Bahá'í community. These members are elected by the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world. Every male adult Bahá'í in good-standing throughout the world is eligible for election. It is of course well known to Bahá'ís that the number in the future could exceed nine, as stated in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, "should it exceed this number it doth not matter"-(KA para30).
The question, as you all know, is often asked why it is that the membership of the Supreme Body is confined to men. In my experience the wisest way to answer this query is to quote 'Abdu'l-Bahá: "the House of Justice... according to the explicit text of the Law of God is confined to men; this for a wisdom of the Lord God's, which will ere long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high noon"- (SWAB p.80). This statement by the Master closes the door to speculation and argumentation. I think what 'Abdu'l-Bahá means is that neither humanity, nor the Bahá'í community has reached their stage of maturity. At such a stage, the age of wise judgement and well balanced discretion, on the part of a fast-evolving world, would be reached, and it would then become crystal clear as to why Bahá'u'lláh included this provision in His Code of Laws.
As I said earlier, this clause has six sub-clauses, and most sub-clauses are divided into subsidiary sections. The first sub-clause has nine sub-sections from (a) to (i). The important points in these sub-sections are as follows:
1. The election of the Universal House of Justice is held every five years unless otherwise decided by the Supreme Body. In such a case the elected members shall continue in office, until their successors are elected and can have their first meeting.
2. The principal business of the International Convention is the election of the House Members, deliberation on the affairs of the Cause and submission of recommendations for consideration by the Universal House of Justice.
3. If at the time of the election, the House of Justice considers it impractical or unwise to hold the Convention, it shall determine how the election should take place. On this point, as you all know, for the first time since the House of Justice was formed, the holding of the International Convention, in view of the high insecurity prevailing in the country and the grave dangers involved in international travelling during the month of April 2003, was considered both impractical and unwise, and therefore, the House of Justice decided not to hold the convention, and instructed members of National Spiritual Assemblies to cast their ballots by mail.
4. If a member of a National Assembly, who has cast his ballot by mail, subsequently ceases to be a member of the Assembly, his ballot shall remain valid unless, in the meantime, the successor shall have been elected and the ballot of the latter received in Haifa.
5. In case of a tie vote, or votes, additional balloting will be held on the persons tied. As National Conventions, on the years when the International Convention is convened, are held at a date soon after the Ridván period, the electors in such a case would be the members of the newly elected members of the National Assembly.
The second sub-clause deals with vacancies in the membership of the Universal House of Justice. Four possibilities are envisaged: (1) Death of a member, (2) Dismissal of a member by the House of Justice, if he has committed a sin injurious to the common weal, (3) Removal of a member from membership, if the House of Justice considers him to be unable to fulfil his functions, and (4) Relinquishment of membership by a member, with the approval of the House of Justice. As you all know, the first and fourth eventualities have occurred in the past, but the second and third have not yet ever happened, and let us hope that they will never need to be implemented.
The next sub-clause deals with By-Elections. If a vacancy occurs between two International Conventions, the voters shall be the voters of the National Assemblies in office. If, in the judgement of the Universal House of Justice, the date falls too close to the date of the regular International Convention, it may not proceed with the by-election. In such cases, the Universal House of Justice would be functioning during such a short period in question, with, say, only eight members.
The next sub-section lays down procedures for the first meeting of the House of Justice after election, and clearly stipulates that it has no officers and that its meetings are therefore conducted in a manner decided by the House of Justice itself. It is common knowledge that at this time in the evolution of the work of the House of Justice the chairmanship rotates among the members, in alphabetical order on a weekly basis.
This sub-clause provides for quorums of less than the full membership, for specific classes of business. It enables members of the House to take annual leave or at periods they may wish to determine, without hampering the day to day work of the Supreme Body. This does not prevent the Universal House of Justice from contacting absent members by phone or otherwise, for their input on issues under consideration.
The last two sub-clauses deal with the signature of the letters written by the Universal House of Justice itself in either English or Persian, and the need in each case to affix the Seal of the Supreme Body. The Universal House of Justice itself also lays down specific methods for the recording of its own decisions.
The next section, which is unique to the work of the House of Justice is clause VII, entitled 'The Right of Review'. This clause is in two parts, the first part is an extension of a similar article in all National Constitutions, giving the right to the Head of the Faith to modify or even reverse decisions or actions taken by subsidiary agencies of the Administrative Order. The second part anticipates the possibility of a Spiritual Assembly, National or Local, failing to take action or reach a decision on an issue which, at the discretion of the Universal House of Justice is vital to the interests of the Faith and calls for specific action to be taken. In such cases the Universal House of Justice gives itself the right to take action directly in the matter.
We will now deal with the last three clauses of the By-Laws, namely section IX: The Boards of Counsellors; section X: The Auxiliary Boards; and section XI: Amendment. Section IX provides for the appointment by the House of Justice of individual Bahá'ís who can be entrusted with the functions of protection and propagation of the Faith, as assigned to the Hands of the Cause of God, in accordance with the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Each Counsellor is expected to carry out his duties within the zone where he resides. Terms of office are determined by the House of Justice. As you know, the current term is five years. This clause further stipulates that the work of a Counsellor renders him ineligible for service on Local or National administrative bodies. If he is elected to the Universal House of Justice, he obviously has to relinquish his status as a Counsellor.
Section X defines the functions of Auxiliary Board members as deputies, assistants and advisors of the Counsellors. Each Auxiliary Board member is allotted a specific area in which to serve. An Auxiliary Board member, unlike a Counsellor, is eligible for any elective office. If so elected, he must decide whether to remain on the Board or accept the elective post. Similarly, if elected to the Universal House of Justice he automatically relinquishes his status as an Auxiliary Board member. As you all know the current term for Auxiliary Board members is also five years.
Furthermore, as indicated by Shoghi Effendi, there are two Boards, one for the protection, and one for the propagation of the Faith. The number of Auxiliary Boards for each continent is decided by the Universal House of Justice. The Counsellors in their turn divide this number throughout their area of responsibility, as the need in each area may indicate.
The last clause stipulates that all amendments may be made only when the full membership of the House of Justice is present. The constitution of the House of Justice, in its present form, has not yet been amended. However two important decisions, affecting the Boards of Counsellors and Auxiliary Boards, have already been taken by the House of Justice, which with the of passing of time will undoubtedly be incorporated in the Constitution, as amendments to its clauses. One is the establishment of the International Teaching Centre in the Holy Land, and the other is the permission given to Auxiliary Board members to appoint assistants. These provisions do not appear in the present Constitution as these decisions were adopted after the formulation of the Constitution in November 1972.
Q. Are the three functions of the House of Justice: legislative, executive and judicial set down in the Writings?
A. In 'The Unfoldment of World Civilization' (WOB p. 203) Shoghi Effendi describes the principal institutions of the Bahá'í World Commonwealth as the "world legislature", the "world executive", and the "world tribunal".
In a statement published in every volume of "The Bahá'í World" during the lifetime of Shoghi Effendi entitled "A procedure for the Conduct of a Local Spiritual Assembly" we find reference to the three separate powers of every Spiritual Assembly. For example in volume 12, on page 297 (the last volume published in the lifetime of Shoghi Effendi) we find the statement in question.
Q. Will the Universal House of Justice recognize the future Manifestation of God?
A. I have not seen anything in the Writings on this subject. However when a pilgrim asked Shoghi Effendi this very question he said that the Universal House of Justice will surely recognize the new Manifestation of God and introduce Him to the community. Whether or not the rank and file will accept Him is a matter of speculation and I do not wish to go into this area.
Q. According to what criteria does the Universal House of Justice decide on the length of teaching plans?
A. Obviously the House of Justice takes into consideration a variety of factors, such as the strengths and weaknesses of the Bahá'í community, the trends in world developments, and the possibilities of the future as the Faith moves towards its destiny.
Q. What is the precise difference, as stated in the Constitution, between elucidation and interpretation? How can we be sure that we are not interpreting the Writings, when we deepen?
A. As you all know Shoghi Effendi had two main objectives animating his ministry: the establishment of the Universal House of Justice and the systematic launching of the provisions of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. He was endowed with a gift of knowing the mind of Bahá'u'lláh and of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Indeed I think he gives us a definition of interpretation in his "Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" where he clearly states that "the Guardian has been specifically endowed with such power as he may need to reveal the purport and disclose the implications of the utterances of Bahá'u'lláh and of 'Abdu'l-Bahá". (WOB p. 151) This is a gift bestowed upon the Guardian and on 'Abdu'l-Bahá before him, because they both knew and were able to disclose what the nature and scope were of the vision inherent in God's Holy Faith.
As to elucidation we have already seen how Shoghi Effendi says that the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá had concealed mysteries which would be unveiled gradually after the election of the Universal House of Justice. The letters of the House of Justice published in the volume of its messages on the question of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice can well be regarded as elucidations. Another instance would be the reference in the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as well as in other of His utterances concerning the World Tribunal. In one of his letters to the American National Assembly Shoghi Effendi stated: " Touching the point raised in the Secretary's letter regarding the nature and scope of the Universal Court of Arbitration, this and other similar matters will have to be explained and elucidated by the Universal House of Justice, to which, according to the Master's explicit instructions, all important and fundamental questions must be referred". (BA p.47) There are a number of questions that normally would come to mind about such a universal court or tribunal. Who will elect or appoint it? Will it have a term of office? Will women as well as men be eligible for membership? What will be its relationship to the Universal House of Justice? These are unsettled and obscure matters, and the Will and Testament has clearly stated "all difficult problems" (WTA p. 14) as well as "all problems which have caused difference" (W&T p. 20) and "questions that are obscure" (WTA p. 20) will be resolved through legislation on the part of the Universal House of Justice.
Regarding study circles or deepening courses and the interpretation given by individual participants, this is a completely different situation. In such discussions we are not only permitted to offer our understanding of the texts, but we are encouraged to do so. What is prohibited in the Cause is for an individual or group of individuals to offer interpretations, claim that they are authoritative and engage in promoting such opinions among the friends. The use of our mental faculties in trying to understand a sacred text is a healthy exercise.
Q. Compared to other institutions of which you have been a member did you feel a difference in the consultations in the Universal House of Justice?
A. I do not recall anyone asking me this question before. I have already quoted the verse of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in which He comments about the attitude of the members of Local Spiritual Assemblies. As you recall Bahá'u'lláh says : " They should consider themselves as entering the Court of the presence of God, the Exalted, the Most High, and as beholding Him Who is the Unseen." (KA para.30) Being aware of the presence of the Blessed Beauty in Council Chambers of Spiritual Assemblies, as well as that of the Universal House of Justice is a spiritual obligation placed on the shoulders of the elected members. It is true, however, that entering the Council Chamber of the Universal House of Justice and being privileged to participate in its consultations enables the member to become more intensely aware of the Presence of the Spirit of the Founder of our Faith. How wonderful it will be when an ever increasing number of local and national spiritual assemblies will attain that degree of spiritual consciousness enabling the members to follow the exhortation of Bahá'u'lláh in His Most Holy Book. When consultations are held in such an atmosphere, Divine confirmations and guidance are sure to surround the deliberations of the members and the actions taken by the Assembly. In one of His Tablets after enumerating the spiritual obligations of the members of consulting councils 'Abdu'l-Bahá says: "Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions, the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them and that Assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit". (BA pp. 22-23)
Q. Does the House of Justice refer to the Bayán as well as the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh?
A. As you know one of the buildings around the Arc is the edifice for the Centre of the Study of the Texts. The Research Department of the Universal House of Justice has its offices in that building. This Department specializes in providing the Universal House of Justice with texts which bear directly or indirectly upon subjects that the House of Justice feels it needs in addressing an issue of legislation or bordering on legislation. The Research Department also provides the House of Justice with extracts from the Writings of past religions, including that of the Báb, as may be indicated.
The work of the House of Justice, as you all know, can also relate to matters that are secular or scientific in character, calling for knowledge in various fields. Such data and information is usually beyond the scope of the Research Department and is referred to another institution which will, in the years to come, be built around the Arc. It is because of this need that the Universal House of Justice in a letter to the Bahá'í world dated August 31, 1987 stated the following in describing the immediate and future responsibilities of the International Bahá'í Library: "This Library is the central depository of all literature published on the Faith, and is an essential source of information for the institutions of the World Centre on all subjects relating to the Cause of God and the conditions of mankind. In future decades its functions must grow, it will serve as an active centre for knowledge in all fields, and it will become the kernel of great institutions of scientific investigation and discovery." (WH p. 52) The International Library is currently housed in the Centre for the Study of the Texts, but in the future it will have its own separate building, facing the Archives Building.
With the above in mind we can visualize the Universal House of Justice in the centre of the Arc buildings. On its left is the Centre for the Study of the Texts which provides it with information on religious scripture. On the right it is flanked by an institution which provides it with information in the scientific and secular fields of knowledge. Thus on the Mountain of God we see the union of religion and science serving the Supreme Body of the Faith.
Q. Are the Boards of Counsellors a different institution from the Hands of the Cause?
A. According to the Master's Will and Testament the Hands of the Cause are appointed by the Guardian. No term of office was stipulated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and therefore those nominated continued in office for the rest of their lives, as happened in the case of Hands of the Cause appointed by Bahá'u'lláh. The Counsellors as you know are appointed by the Universal House of Justice for a term of five years.
Furthermore the Hands of the Cause, as we have seen, were due to elect nine from among their number who would give their assent to the choice of a successor of the Guardian. Such an authority has not been vested in the institution of the Counsellors.
A third distinction is that according to the terms of 'Abdu'l-Bahá’s Will, the Hands of the Cause had been empowered to expel anyone opposing the Guardian, even if that person had the rank of Hand of the Cause. This provision of the Will and Testament was put into effect by the Hands, when it was necessary to expel Mason Remey, because of the latter's claim to the Guardianship. Such authority of expulsion has not been given to the institution of the Counsellors.
Q. How often does the House of Justice meet? Why are decisions of the House of Justice recorded?
A. The House of Justice meets at this time three days a week, and depending on its agenda, for the whole day. This pattern may change in the future as there is no text on this matter. Obviously all decisions of the House of Justice have to have some documentation. The method of recording such decisions can of course change from time to time.
Q. With regard to vacancies on the membership of the Universal House of Justice, what might "a sin injurious to the commonweal" be?
A. This phrase is of course taken from the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It is left to the Universal House of Justice to determine whether misbehaviour or misconduct of one of its members is of a magnitude that would cause harm to the well being of the Faith. Each case will naturally be considered separately and, as far as I am aware, no specific definition has been given by the House of Justice on this issue.
Q. The Universal House of Justice has no officers. What are "officers" in this context?
A. This term is with reference to the by-laws of National and Local Spiritual Assemblies and the intent is clearly the usual officers of Bahá'í consultative bodies, namely, Chairman, Vice-chairman, Secretary and Treasurer. The House of Justice has no chairman and the office of chairmanship rotates among the members on a weekly basis in alphabetical order. The work of the Secretary and Treasurer is so vast and complex that special departments have been established to carry on the duties related to these functions. These departments operate under separate Policy Committees composed of House Members which direct and supervise the work of these departments. It should be pointed out in this connection that all matters not specified in the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice are normally matters of detail and can be changed from time to time by the House of Justice itself, as the needs may arise.
Q. How shall we understand the concept of "infallibility"?
A. Bahá'u'lláh in the Tablet of Ishráqát explains that infallibility has "diverse stations". (TB p. 108) In Some Answered Questions in Chapter 45 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains that there are two kinds of infallibility: "essential" and "acquired". The essential kind is one of the distinctive powers of the Manifestation of God, and no one is given a share in this distinction. Acquired infallibility is conferred upon those who do not possess essentially the Divine Light but receive that light indirectly from its Source. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says in that chapter that such souls are "mediators of grace between God and men". He goes on to say: "If God did not protect them from error, their error would cause believing souls to fall into error and thus the foundation of the Religion of God would be overturned, which would not be fitting nor worthy of God."
In the same chapter 'Abdu'l-Bahá gives two examples of those who possess acquired infallibility. For the Bahá'í Faith He mentions the Institution of the Universal House of Justice whose decisions are "under the protection and the unerring guidance of God". The other example given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá is in the context of the Christian Dispensation and is with reference to Christ who was the source of God's "command" possessing the Most Great Infallibility and His disciples who were under His shadow, and on whom He conferred His special grace. It is interesting in this connection to note that the disciples of Christ and the Imams of the Muhammadan Faith are mentioned as belonging to the one and same category in their respective Dispensations. (SAQ Ch. 11)
It is worthy of note that the authority conveyed to the disciples of Christ, as recorded in the New Testament is expressed in the following words addressed by Him to His disciples: "Verily I say unto you. Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (New Testament, Matthew Ch. 18 verse 18)
I suppose there are many other ways to understand the concept of infallibility in the Cause but what I have shared with you is my own simple and inadequate understanding of this subject. I suppose that in the future, this all important theme will be explored more fully by the scholars of the Faith and possibly further elucidated by the Universal House of Justice itself, if it felt it was necessary to do so.