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Spiritual Assembly (Mahfel-i-Ruháni)

by Moojan Momen

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2011

MAHFEL-E RUHÁNI (spiritual assembly), current designation of the Bahai governing councils elected at local and national level.

History.  In the Kitáb-i-aqdas, Baháʾ-Alláh instructs that in each locality there should be established a House of Justice (Bayt-al-ʿAdl), where nine or more Bahais should gather for the purpose of consulting about the affairs of the Bahais in that area (v. 31).  As a result of this, an “Assembly of Consultation” (maḥfel-e shawr) was set up in a number of towns and villages in Iran in the 1870s (Esfaháni; Mehrábkání).  Baháʾ-Alláh stated, however, that the time was not yet right for such developments (ILMA 28, pp. 179-80). These early efforts did not survive long, however.  In the years immediately after the passing of Baháʾ-Alláh in 1892, an assembly was established by the Hands of the Cause (ayádi-e amr Alláh) in Tehran in an attempt to heal the disunity being created by Jamāl Borujerdi, a leading Bahai who later came out in open opposition to ʿAbd-al-Baháʾ, but he refused to co-operate (Fáżel Māzandaráni, pp. 385-87).

In 1897, ʿAbd-al-Baháʾ appears to have given instructions to Ebn Abhar that, on his return to Tehran, he should establish an assembly of consultation (majmaʿa-ye shawr) there.  This assembly consisted of the four individuals that Baháʾ-Alláh had appointed as Hands of the Cause and seven others chosen by the Hands.  A notable feature of this assembly was the presence on it of Bahais from minority backgrounds, one convert from Judaism, and one from Zoroastrianism.  From this time onwards, prominent Bahais such as Ebn Abhar, as they traveled about Iran, would set up these assemblies in every town and village where there were sufficient Bahais to do so (Sefidvash, p. 55).


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