House of Justice (Baytu'l-'Adl)
by Moojan Momenpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 3
New York: Columbia University, 1989
BAYT-AL-ʿADL (House of Justice), a Bahai administrative institution. In the Bahai faith all spiritual and administrative authority rests with institutions rather than individuals. These institutions exist in a hierarchy according to the area (local, national, and international) over which they hold jurisdiction. At present in the Bahai world, the institutions that exist at the local and national level are called Spiritual Assemblies (maḥfel-e rūḥānī), but Shoghi Effendi has stated that these will eventually evolve into and be named Houses of Justice (World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 5-7). At the international level, however, the name of the supreme authority in the Bahai world is the Universal House of Justice (bayt-al-ʿadl-e aʿẓam).
The House of Justice was first ordained in al-Ketāb al-aqdas of Bahāʾ-Allāh. In this book and other writings of Bahāʾ-Allāh, there are many statements regarding the House of Justice, but it was left to Bahāʾ-Allāh’s successors as leaders of the Bahai community to define the various levels of House of Justice and to determine which statements of Bahāʾ-Allāh relate to which level.
When copies of the al-Ketāb al-aqdas reached Iran, some of the Bahais in Tehran in 1294/1877 decided to implement the instructions and set up a House of Justice in that city. Later others were set up in other parts of Iran and in about 1900 in Chicago. But in 1902 ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ changed this name lest the secular authorities in any country should think that an attempt was being made to set up an alternative judiciary or that any interference with the political or administrative affairs of the country was intended (Bahá’i World Faith, p. 406). During ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s lifetime such names as House of Spirituality and Board of Counsel were current among the Bahais of the West and Majles-e Šūrā in the East. Later this was standardized to Maḥfel-e Rūḥānī. In his Will and Testament (p. 14; Ganjīna-ye ḥodūd, p. 214), ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ gave instructions for the setting up of special or secondary Houses of Justice (bayt-e ʿadl-e ḵoṣūṣī) which would be established in each country and would elect the members of the general or universal House of Justice (bayt-e ʿadl-e ʿomūmī). Shoghi Effendi interpreted this to mean that Houses of Justice would eventually be established at local, national, and international levels and be proceeded, from 1923 onward, with the formation of national Spiritual Assemblies (maḥfel-e rūḥānī-e mellī), which he identified with the secondary Houses of Justice. Predecessors to these national bodies had existed in some countries from the time of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ with such names as the Bahai Temple Unity and the Central Spiritual Assembly (maḥfel-e rūḥānī-e markazī). Shoghi Effendi also established in 1951 a body called the International Bahai Council (Šūrā-ye bayn-al-melalī-e Bahāʾī) which he stated was a precursor of the Universal House of Justice. Following the death of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, the Hands of the Cause of God (Ayādī-e Amr Allāh), who had been designated “Chief Stewards of Baha'u’llah’s embryonic World Order” (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 127), decided upon the election of the Universal House of Justice which was elected in 1963 by the members of all of the National Spiritual Assemblies. The Universal House of Justice adopted its constitution in 1972 (Bahá’í World 17, p. 287).
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