Department of the Secretarial
30 December 1991
Dear Bahá'í Friend,
The Universal House of Justice referred to the Research Department your letter of 20 October 1991 in which you raised several questions about different aspects of the Bahá'í Teachings. We are now able to send you the enclosed copy of the memorandum dated 30 December 1991, and its three attachments, prepared in response.
It is hoped that a study of this material will provide the enlightenment you have sought.
With loving Bahá'í greetings,
For Department of the Secretariat
Enclosure, with three attachments
To: The Universal House of Justice
30 December 1991
From: The Research Department
Questions about Aspects of the Bahá'í Teachings
The Research Department has considered the questions about various aspects of the Bahá'í teachings and their application contained in the letter dated 20 October 1991 from Mr. .... We provide the following response.
1. Bahá'í Status and Community Membership
Mr. ... raises a number of issues about whether the various terms that are applied to individuals who accept Bahá'u'lláh connote substantive differences in status and have implications for determining membership in the Bahá'í community.
With regard to whether there are differences between an individual's accepting Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God, being a Bahá'í, and being a member of the Bahá'í community, in broad terms, it might be said that the recognition of Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God for this age represents a declaration of faith, the fulfilment by the individual of the "first duty prescribed by God for His servants". However, "twin duties" are prescribed — acceptance of the Manifestation and obedience to His laws are required. Bahá'u'lláh cautions that "Neither is acceptable without the other". See "Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983), pp. 330-331.
Acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh is an important milestone along the way both to becoming a member of the Bahá'í community and to being a Bahá'í. Shoghi Effendi in a letter dated 9 July 1957 written on his behalf to a National Spiritual Assembly affirmed that:
The essential thing is that the candidate for enrolment should believe in his heart in the truth of Bahá'u'lláh....
Further, the Universal House of Justice in a letter dated 10 February 1985 written on its behalf to an individual believer indicated that:
...recognition of the Manifestation of God and understanding of the obligation to obey His laws are the two basic prerequisites for membership in the Bahá'í community....
Enrolment in the Bahá'í community also has administrative implications. It is the means by which the name of the new declarant is recorded by the Spiritual Assembly.
Being a Bahá'í is inextricably linked both to acceptance of the Manifestation of God and membership in the Bahá'í community. It involves a commitment and effort to uphold the teachings. Shoghi Effendi in a letter dated 28 November 1939 written on his behalf to an individual believer stated:
The process of becoming a Bahá'í is necessarily slow and gradual. The essential is not that the beginner should have a full and detailed knowledge of the Cause, a thing which is obviously impossible in the vast majority of cases, but that he should, by an act of his own will, be willing to uphold and follow the truth and guidance set forth in the Teachings, and thus open his heart and mind to the reality of the Manifestation.
Based on the foregoing, it is suggested that, while there may be slight differences in emphases in the three definitions, accepting Bahá'u'lláh, being a Bahá'í and being a member of the Bahá'í community, all are intertwined and might be considered as part of the same spiritual process of orienting one's life to the teachings of the Manifestation of God.
1.2 Conditions for Membership
With regard to whether a person who accepts Bahá'u'lláh is a Bahá'í and will automatically be considered a member of the Bahá'í community, we attach for Mr. ...'s study a short compilation of extracts entitled “Conditions for Membership in the Bahá'í Community”. From these extracts it will be seen that Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice have articulated broad guidelines to assist the Spiritual Assemblies in establishing the qualifications for membership. See particularly extracts 1 and 5. However, the Assemblies have a degree of flexibility in determining how to apply these guidelines in light of the conditions and needs in the local Bahá'í community. Further, the importance of the continued deepening and education of the new believer is stressed. In addition to the compilation, we attach an extract from a letter dated 28 June 1987 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly which relates to the application of the general guidelines to a particular category of cases.
Further, believers whose voting and administrative rights have been suspended by their National Assembly are deprived of full membership in the Bahá'í community. Shoghi Effendi, in a letter dated 18 May 1948 written on his behalf to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, indicated:
"Deprivation of voting rights" and "deprivation of membership in the Bahá'í Community" are really the same thing.
For more information about the nature and extent of this deprivation we attach a summary statement entitled, "Deprivation of Voting Rights".
2. "Spiritual Primacy"
With regard to the meaning of the "spiritual primacy" of the American believers, there are many references to this subject in the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the letters of Shoghi Effendi. In "Tablets of the Divine Plan", 'Abdu'l-Bahá indicates that
...the continent of America is, in the eyes of the one true God, the land wherein the splendours of His light shall be revealed, where the mysteries of His Faith shall be unveiled, the home of the righteous and the gathering-place of the free.
(As cited by Shoghi Effendi in "Citadel of Faith: Messages to America 1947-1957" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980),
Through the revelation of the "Tablets of the Divine Plan", 'Abdu'l-Bahá invested the North American Bahá'í community with a "spiritual primacy" and singled it out for a "glorious mission among its sister communities". The blessings conferred upon the American nation and its peoples, and the contributions they are destined to make, are described by Shoghi Effendi in the following terms:
...a nation that has achieved undisputed ascendancy in the entire Western Hemisphere, whose rulers have been uniquely honoured by being collectively addressed by the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation in His "Kitáb-i-Aqdas"; which has been acclaimed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the "home of the righteous and the gathering-place of the free", where the "splendours of His light shall be revealed, where the mysteries of His Faith shall be unveiled" and belonging to a continent which, as recorded by that same pen, "giveth signs and evidences of very great advancement", whose "future is even more promising", whose "influence and illumination are far-reaching", and which "will lead all nations spiritually". Moreover, it is to this Great Republic of the West that the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh has referred as the nation that has "developed powers and capacities greater and more wonderful than other nations", and which "is equipped and empowered to accomplish that which will adorn the pages of history, to become the envy of the world, and be blest in both the East and the West for the triumph of its people." It is for this same American Democracy that He expressed His fervent hope that it might be "the first nation to establish the foundation of international agreement", "to proclaim the unity of mankind", and "to unfurl the Standard of the Most Great Peace", that it might become "the distributing centre of spiritual enlightenment, and all the world receive this heavenly blessing", and that its inhabitants might "rise from their present material attainments to such a height that heavenly illumination may stream from this centre to all the peoples of the world." It is in connection with its people that He has affirmed that they are "indeed worthy of being the first to build the Tabernacle of the Great Peace and proclaim the oneness of mankind."
("Citadel of Faith: Messages to America 1947-1957", p. 35)
To assist Mr. ... in his study of this subject, we suggest the following references:
"Citadel of Faith: Messages to America 1947-1957". See, particularly, the letter dated 5 June 1947. This letter provides a useful summary of some of the processes which link the destiny of America and the goals of the Faith.
"The Advent of Divine Justice" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1990). This book deals, among other things, with America's spiritual station, the leavening role of the Bahá'í community and the contribution of America to the establishment of the Lesser Peace and the Most Great Peace.
With respect to Mr. ...'s enquiry concerning whether the spiritual primacy conferred by 'Abdu'l-Bahá applies only to the early believers or whether it continues to apply today. Based on the foregoing, it is evident that the spiritual primacy of the American believers is not confined to the past. It is interesting to observe that in "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 86, the Guardian affirms that the "spiritual primacy ... was to be the birthright of the American believers", and later in the same message, he predicts that the future achievements of that community would be "immeasurably greater" than its "past and present achievements". Shoghi Effendi in his letters also indicates that great responsibilities are associated with this primacy and he challenges the American Bahá'í community to continue to "arise and reaffirm" their primacy and to
demonstrate anew its capacity to perform such deeds as are worthy of its high calling. Its members, the executors of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Plan, the champion-builders of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic Order, the torch-bearers of a world-girdling civilization, must, in the years immediately ahead, bestir themselves, and, as bidden by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "increase" their exertions "a thousandfold", and of their "unspeakably glorious" mission, and hasten the day when, as prophesied by Him, their community will "find itself securely established upon the throne of an everlasting dominion", when "the whole earth" will be stirred and shaken by the results of its "achievements" and "resound with the praises of majesty and greatness", when America will "evolve into a centre from which waves of spiritual power will emanate, and the throne of the Kingdom of God will, in the plenitude of its majesty and glory, be firmly established."
3. Most Great Spirit
("Citadel of Faith: Messages to America 1947-1957", p. 31)
Mr. ... makes reference to Mr. Taherzadeh's "The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh", vol. IV, (Oxford: George Ronald, 1987), pp. 133-134, where mention is made of the fact that the Most Great Spirit "animated and sustained" Bahá'u'lláh. In light of this section, he enquires about the difference between the Holy Spirit and the Most Great Spirit.
The Research Department has, to date, not been able to locate a comprehensive definition of the term "Most Great Spirit" in the Writings or the letters of Shoghi Effendi. The discussion in Mr. Taherzadeh's book appears to be based, on part, on an extract from the Súriy-i-Haykal which states:
The Holy Spirit Itself hath been generated through the agency of a single letter revealed by this Most Great Spirit, if ye be of them that comprehend.
(As translated and cited by Shoghi Effendi in "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters", p. 109)
Shoghi Effendi has provided an interpretation of this extract in a letter dated 23 July 1936 written on his behalf to an individual believer in response to a series of questions about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Bahá'u'lláh and His relationship to the other Manifestations of God. The letter states:
As to your question concerning the Holy Spirit and its relation to Bahá'u'lláh: the Holy Spirit may be well compared to the rays of the sun, and Bahá'u'lláh to a perfect mirror reflecting these rays which radiate from the sun. Briefly stated the comparison is this: God is the sun; the Holy Spirit is the rays of the sun; and Bahá'u'lláh is the mirror reflecting the rays of the sun. In the passage you have quoted from the "Súriy-i-Haykal" Bahá'u'lláh refers to His station of identity with God, to His reality which is Divine. In this passage it is really God speaking through Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh is not the intermediary between God and the other Manifestations, although these are under His shadow, for the simple reason that the Messengers of God are all inherently one; it is their Message that differs. Bahá'u'lláh appearing at a time when the world has attained maturity, His message must necessarily surpass the message of all previous prophets. Not only so, but His message is potentially greater than any message which later prophets within His own cycle may reveal. This is because the stage of maturity is the most momentous stage in the evolution of mankind...
In "God Passes By" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1987), p. 101, Shoghi Effendi describes the coming of Revelation to Bahá'u'lláh in the Siyah-Chal and makes the following statement about how the "Most Great Spirit" was manifested symbolically in earlier Dispensations. He wrote:
...at so critical an hour and under such appalling circumstances the "Most Great Spirit", as designated by Himself, and symbolized in the Zoroastrian, the Mosaic, the Christian, and Muhammadan Dispensations by the Sacred Fire, the Burning Bush, the Dove and the Angel Gabriel respectively, descended upon, and revealed itself, personated by a "Maiden" to the agonized soul of Bahá'u'lláh.
From the foregoing, it appears that the term the "Most Great Spirit" is used to convey both the kindling of Revelation in the Manifestations of God and God speaking through His Manifestations.
4. Study Materials on the Covenant
With regard to the request for materials to assist in deepening on the Covenant and preparing against future attacks of the Faith, it is suggested that Mr. ... refer to the compilations, prepared at the instruction of the Universal House of Justice, on "The Covenant" and "Crisis and Victory". In addition, the three booklets entitled "The Power of the Covenant," published by the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada in 1976-1977, are a valuable resource.
5. The Revelation of the Bab
Mr. ... refers to Mr. Taherzadeh's "The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh", vol. 1, p. 4, which indicates that the Bab "declared His mission about a year after the intimation of His sacred mission". He enquires whether there are any descriptions of this moment by the Bab. To assist Mr. ... in his study of this subject, we provide the following references:
In "God Passes By", p. 93, Shoghi Effendi relates the Bab's "first intimations" of His mission to His dream in which
6. Participation in Civil Elections
...He approached the bleeding head of the Imam Husayn, and, quaffing the blood that dripped from his lacerated throat, awoke to find Himself the chosen recipient of the outpouring grace of the Almighty.
In "The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 253, Nabil quotes from a Tablet revealed by the Bab, in which He states that He had this dream "in the year before the declaration" of His mission.
A further stage in the process of the coming of revelation to the Bab is described in one of His Tablets, an excerpt from which is published in Abbas Amanat's book, "Resurrection and Renewal" (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 168. It states:
In truth, the first day that the spirit descended in the heart of this slave, was the fifteenth of the month of Rabi' al-Awwal [4 April 1844].
In a Tablet published in "Selections from the Writings of the Bab"(Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1982), pp. 180-183, the Bab indicates that He "experienced the revelation" in the place of His birth, Shiraz.
Mr. ... cites extract 862 in "Lights of Guidance: A Bahá'í Reference File" (New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983) concerning voting in civil elections. The passage indicates that the friends may vote so long as they do not identify themselves with a political party. Mr. ... asks about the meaning of "identifying" with a party. A careful reading of extracts 861-864 in "Lights of Guidance" will indicate that identification with a party implies such actions as joining and being a member of a political party, and publicly expressing support for a party.
With regard to whether it is only permitted to vote for independent candidates, in general, the believers are not precluded from voting for candidates who are party members, provided they "bear in mind that they are voting on the merits of the individual, rather than because he belongs to one party or another".
7. Definition of a Pioneer
With regard to whether a person who moves to another country for personal reasons and who settles in a goal city can be considered as a pioneer, the following extract from a letter dated 22 September 1974 from the Universal House of Justice to the Continental Pioneer Committee for Europe, may help to clarify the criteria used by National Spiritual Assemblies who receive pioneers for establishing whom they consider as pioneers:
Whether a Bahá'í is in a place because he pioneered there or has settled there for some other reason, does not affect the duty of teaching and serving the Cause laid upon him by Bahá'u'lláh. Generally, a person who goes to a country expressly as a pioneer should be counted as such. There are also many who, although they go primarily for some other purpose, nevertheless fill a goal or are very active in the service of the Faith, and there is no reason not to record them as pioneers in your files. The decision whether to consider a person as a pioneer for the purposes of your records must be made in each individual case.
Conditions for Membership in the Bahá'í Community
From Letters Written by or on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi
Regarding the very delicate and complex question of ascertaining the qualifications of a true believer, I cannot in this connection emphasize too strongly the supreme necessity for the exercise of the utmost discretion, caution and tact, whether it be in deciding for ourselves as to who may be regarded a true believer or in disclosing to the outside world such considerations as may serve as a basis for such a decision. I would only venture to state very briefly and as adequately as present circumstances permit the principal factors that must be taken into consideration before deciding whether a person may be regarded a true believer or not. Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Bahá'í Cause, as set forth in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by Their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved's sacred Will; and close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present day Bahá'í administration throughout the world — these I conceive to be the fundamental and primary considerations that must be fairly, discreetly, and thoughtfully ascertained before reaching such a vital decision. Any attempt at further analysis and elucidation will, I fear, land us in barren discussions and even grave controversies that would prove not only futile but even detrimental to the best interests of a growing Cause....
(24 October 1925, written by Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, published in "Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1932" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980), p. 90) 
With regard to your first question, Shoghi Effendi wishes me to tell you that he has already written to America what for the present should be the qualifications of a true believer. He must accept Bahá'u'lláh as a supreme and divine Manifestation and 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the chief Interpreter and Exemplar of those teachings. He must accept each and all of the provisions of the Master's last Will and Testament and must work with and accept the present administration of the Cause.
(22 May 1927, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer) 
Concerning the conditions for membership in the Bahá'í Community: these have been already defined by the Guardian on page 811
of "Bahá'í Administration".
But as to the method of applying these conditions to individual cases, this is a matter left to the discretion of the Assemblies.
(28 May 1937, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer) 
As he has written the Central and East Africa Assembly, he feels that the friends should be very careful not to place hindrances in the way of those who wish to accept the Faith. If we make the requirements too rigorous, we will cool off the initial enthusiasm, rebuff the hearts and cease to expand rapidly. The essential thing is that the candidate for enrolment should believe in his heart in the truth of Bahá'u'lláh. whether he is literate or illiterate, informed of all the Teachings or not, is beside the point entirely. When the spark of faith exists the essential Message is there, and gradually everything else can be added unto it. The process of educating people of different customs and backgrounds must be done with the greatest patience and understanding, and rules and regulations not imposed upon them, except where a rock-bottom essential is in question....
(9 July 1957, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly) 
From Letters Written by or on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice
- In the 1980 edition of "Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages
1922-1932" the extract in question appears on p. 90 (See extract No. 1).
Conditions for Membership in the Bahá'í Community
Those who declare themselves as Bahá'ís should become enchanted with the beauty of the Teachings, and touched by the love of Bahá'u'lláh. The declarants need not know all the proofs, history, laws, and principles of the Faith, but in the process of declaring themselves they must, in addition to catching the spark of faith, become basically informed about the Central Figures of the Faith, as well as the existence of laws they must follow and an administration they must obey.
(13 July 1964, written by the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies) 
There is no requirement in Bahá'í administration for a new believer to sign an enrolment card. It is for each National Spiritual Assembly to decide, in the light of conditions in the territory under its jurisdiction, how it wishes a declaration of faith to be made. For a number of reasons it has been found in most countries that an enrolment card is a simple and useful way of registering new believers, but this is not a universal requirement....
(28 October 1975, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly) 
First of all, the acceptance of a person into the Bahá'í community should be based not on whether he or she is leading an exemplary life, but on whether the Spiritual Assembly is reasonably certain that the declarant is sincere in his declaration of faith in Bahá'u'lláh and that he knows of the laws which would affect his personal conduct, so that he does not enter the community under a misapprehension.
(24 December 1984, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly) 
Regarding the statement on the Bahá'í declaration card, recognition of the Manifestation of God and understanding of the obligation to obey His laws are the two basic prerequisites for membership in the Bahá'í community. The following quotation appears at the beginning of the "Kitáb-i-Aqdas", the Most Holy Book.
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof, hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
The above passage also appears on pages 330-31 of "Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh". It is hoped that your contemplation of it will assist your understanding of the statement appearing on the declaration card.
(10 February 1985, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) 
Extract from a letter dated 28 June 1987 written on behalf of the
Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly
In considering the status of believers such as Mr. ... it is necessary to review the requirements for membership in the Bahá'í community. The basic considerations are set out by the Guardian in his statement:
I would only venture to state very briefly and as adequately as present circumstances permit the principal factors that must be taken into consideration before deciding whether a person may be regarded a true believer or not. Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Bahá'í Cause, as set forth in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved's sacred Will; and close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present day Bahá'í administration throughout the world — these I conceive to be the fundamental and primary considerations that must be fairly, discreetly, and thoughtfully ascertained before reaching such a vital decision....
("Bahá'í Administration", p. 90, October 24, 1925)
This specification was restated by the Universal House of Justice in addressing the issue of acceptance of new believers, when it wrote:
Those who declare themselves as Bahá'ís should become enchanted with the beauty of the teachings, and touched by the love of Bahá'u'lláh. The declarants need not know all the proofs, history, laws, and principles of the Faith, but in the process of declaring themselves they must, in addition to catching the spark of faith, become basically informed about the Central Figures of the Faith, as well as the existence of laws they must follow and an administration they must obey.
(From a letter to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 13 July 1964)
It follows that individuals who do not satisfy these requirements cannot be regarded as members of the Bahá'í community, irrespective of whatever statements they might make concerning the nature of their belief in Bahá'u'lláh. Such a situation arises, in some instances, when a person claims to accept the station of Bahá'u'lláh but does not accept the authority of the Administrative Institutions. The Guardian clarified this matter in a letter written on his behalf, stating:
To accept the Cause without the administration is like to accept the teachings without acknowledging the divine station of Bahá'u'lláh. To be a Bahá'í is to accept the Cause in its entirety. To take exception to one basic principle is to deny the authority and sovereignty of Bahá'u'lláh, and therefore is to deny the Cause....
(Letter to a National Spiritual Assembly, 30 May 1930)
If you feel that Mr. ... does not accept "the authority and sovereignty of Bahá'u'lláh" as explained above, despite the statements he might make asserting his acceptance of the Bahá'í Faith, you should remove his name from the list of members and regard him as being a non-Bahá'í.
Deprivation of Voting Rights
Extent of Deprivation
One who has lost his voting rights is considered to be a Bahá'í but not one in good standing. The following restrictions and limitations apply to such a believer:
Rights and Privileges Not Denied
- He cannot attend Nineteen Day Feasts or other meetings for Bahá'ís only, including International Conferences, and therefore cannot take part in consultation on the affairs of the community.
- He cannot contribute to the Bahá'í Fund.
- He cannot receive newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Bahá'ís.
- He cannot have a Bahá'í marriage ceremony and therefore is not able to marry a Bahá'í.
- He may not have a Bahá'í pilgrimage.
- Although he is free to teach the Faith on his own behalf, he should not be used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Bahá'ís.
- He is debarred from participating in administrative matters, including the right to vote in Bahá'í elections.
- He cannot hold office or be appointed to a committee.
- He should not be given credentials (which imply that he is a Bahá'í in good standing).
Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied:
- He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days.
- He may attend any Bahá'í function open to non-Bahá'ís.
- He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá'ís.
- He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá'u'lláh to teach.
- Association with other believers is not forbidden.
- He may have the Bahá'í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá'í cemetery.
- Bahá'í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost his voting rights.
- Bahá'í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform.
- He should have access to the Spiritual Assembly.
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