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World Order of Baha'u'llah:
Six Talks on the Various Aspects of

by Ali Nakhjavani

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Chapter 3

3. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

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'ís 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 Huqœqu'llˆh, would, of necessity, devolve upon the Universal House of Justice.

A word of explanation about the offering and receipt of the Huqœqu'llˆh would, I feel, be appropriate. As you know, the Law of the Huqœq 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 Huqœq "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 Huqœqu'llˆh, in accordance with the spirit and purpose of this Fund, as clearly enunciated in 'Abdu'l-Bahá'ís 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 Huqœqu'llˆh. 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"

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