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The Child of the Covenant:
A Study Guide to the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha

by Adib Taherzadeh

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Chapter 38

The Universal House of Justice

Bahá'u'lláh ordained the institution of the Universal House of Justice as a channel of divine guidance and endowed it with infallibility. These are His words, as revealed in the Kalimat-i-Firdawsiyyih:

It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take
counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly
been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable
to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth,
and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient.[305]

[305 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p. 68.]

Further, in the Tablet of Ishraqat, Bahá'u'lláh states:

This passage, now written by the Pen of Glory, is accounted as part
of the Most Holy Book: The men of God's House of Justice have
been charged with the affairs of the people. They, in truth, are the
Trustees of God among His servants and the daysprings of authority
in His countries.

O people of God! That which traineth the world is Justice, for
it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two
pillars are the souses of life to the world. Inasmuch as for each
day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient
solution, such affairs should be referred to the House of Justice
that the members thereof may act according to the needs and
requirements of the time. They that, for the sake of God, arise to
serve His Cause, are the recipients of divine inspiration from the
unseen Kingdom. It is incumbent upon all to be obedient unto
them. All matters of State should be referred to the House of
Justice, but acts of worship must be observed according to that
which God hath revealed in His Book.[306]

[306 ibid. pp. 128-9. (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets.)]

In the same Tablet Bahá'u'lláh further enjoins the men of the House of Justice to train people and raise up the nations:

It is incumbent upon the men of Gods House of Justice to fix their
gaze by day and by night upon that which hath shone forth from
the Pen of Glory for the training of peoples, the upbuilding of
nations, the protection of man and the safeguarding of his
honour.[307]

[307 ibid. p. 125. (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets.)]

These passages revealed by the Author of the Faith demonstrate that the Universal House of Justice derives its authority directly from Bahá'u'lláh Himself. There is also the promise of divine guidance which He vouchsafes unto that Body, for He says: 'God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth...'[308]

[308 ibid. p. 68. (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets.)]

The authority and infallibility which Bahá'u'lláh has conferred upon the Universal House of Justice have been further strengthened by the words of the Master in His Tablets, especially the following passages of His Will and Testament:

17-WT The sacred and youthful branch, the guardian of the
Cause of God as well as the Universal House of Justice, to be
universally elected and established, are both under the care and
protection of the Abha Beauty, under the shelter and unerring
guidance of His Holiness, the Exalted One (may my life be
offered up for them both). Whatsoever they decide is of God.
Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed
God...

And again He writes:

36-WT This is the foundation of the belief of the people of Baha
(may my life be offered up for them): 'His Holiness, the Exalted
One (the Bab), is the Manifestation of the Unity and Oneness of
God and the forerunner of the Ancient Beauty. His Holiness the
Abha Beauty (may my life be a sacrifice for His steadfast friends)
is the Supreme Manifestation of God and the Dayspring of His
Most Divine Essence. All others are servants unto Him and do
His bidding.' Unto the Most Holy Book every one must turn and
all that is not expressly recorded therein must be referred to the
Universal House of Justice. That which this body, whether
unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the Truth
and the Purpose of God Himself Whoso doth deviate therefrom
is verily of them that love discord, hath shown forth malice and
turned away from the Lord of the Covenant.

With the creation of the Universal House of Justice a new era opened in the history of the Bahá'í Faith. Divine guidance had been vouchsafed to the community for almost 113 years, first through the persons of the Manifestations of God, then through the chosen Centre of the Cause and the authorized interpreter of His words. But now, with the passing of Shoghi Effendi and the establishment of the Universal House of Justice, the vehicle of that guidance was changed from the channel of an individual, organically linked to the Manifestation of God, to an elected body of fallible members whose collective resolutions are guided by Bahá'u'lláh, who conferred infallibility upon the institution.

Every religion has spiritual and moral teachings. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, epitomizing the spiritual and moral teachings of Christ, has made a deep and abiding impression upon the followers of Jesus. Other religions have similar spiritual teachings. The passage of time does not usually affect the reverence with which the adherents view these teachings; for example, Muslims conscientiously carry out the law of daily prayer because they consider this teaching to be God's commandment and regard its violation as a sinful act.

Not until the advent of the Bahá'í Dispensation did a Manifestation of God include administrative principles among His spiritual teachings. Bahá'u'lláh has introduced an entirely new dimension; He has placed the spiritual and administrative principles on a par and so a violation of an administrative principle, such as electioneering, is as grave a betrayal of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh as breaking a spiritual law. The purity, the integrity and incorruptibility of Bahá'í institutions are thereby preserved and the institutions themselves are protected from malpractice. Because the Universal House of Justice was ordained by Bahá'u'lláh as a channel of divine guidance and endowed by Him with infallibility, it should not be considered as merely the international administrative body of the Faith.

The question of infallibility has already been discussed in the Introduction. The Manifestations of God — in this day, the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh — are inherently possessed of supreme infallibility. In this they are analogous to the sun, which produces its own heat and light, and is thus independent of other sources of energy But 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice are under the protection of Bahá'u'lláh, who conferred infallibility upon them. They are like the moon, in which light is not inherent but rather reflected by the sun. Their infallibility is validated in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá and specifically in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitab-i-'Ahd (the Book of the Covenant) and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The following are the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in this connection:

To epitomize: essential infallibility belongs especially to the
supreme Manifestations, and acquired infallibility is granted to
every holy soul. For instance, the Universal House of Justice, if it
be established under the necessary conditions — with members
elected from all the people — that House of Justice will be under
the protection and the unerring guidance of God. If that House
of Justice shall decide unanimously, or by a majority, upon any
question not mentioned in the Book, that decision and command
will be guarded from mistake. Now the members of the House of
Justice have not, individually, essential infallibility; but the body
of the House of Justice is under the protection and the unerring
guidance of God: this is called conferred infallibility.[310]

[310 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 172-3.]

From study of the writings cited above, it becomes clear that it is an article of faith for a Bahá'í to believe in the authority and infallibility of the Universal House of Justice. An individual embraces the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh when he recognizes Him to be the Manifestation of God for this age. But this is only the beginning of the process of becoming a Bahá'í. The recognition of Bahá'u'lláh must be followed by an acknowledgement of the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Centre of the Covenant and Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Faith and belief that their words and their interpretations of the holy writings are divinely guided and infallible. Similarly, a Bahá'í must believe that the Universal House of Justice is now the Head of the Faith and its supreme institution, that its pronouncements, legislation and general instructions are all derived from the unerring guidance of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab, and, in the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 'That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the Truth and the Purpose of God Himself.'

It does not seem possible for a person who is not a Bahá'í to accept the House of Justice as 'the source of all good and freed from all error', nor is it possible to prove this statement to him scientifically. The only way that someone can become convinced of the authority and infallibility of the Universal House of Justice is to recognize Bahá'u'lláh as God's Messenger for this age. Then, as a matter of faith, he will be able to accept His assurances in this regard and become convinced of the truths enshrined in His words. As the believer grows in his faith and acquires greater depth in his understanding of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, he becomes progressively more assured that the Blessed Beauty 'shall guard it [the Universal House of Justice] from error and will protect it under the wing of His sanctity and infallibility'.

Remarking further on the protection which the Blessed Beauty provides for the Universal House of Justice, the Master states:

Let it not be imagined that the House of Justice will take any
decision according to its own concepts and opinions. God forbid!
The Supreme House of Justice will take decisions and establish
laws through the inspiration and confirmation of the Holy Spirit,
because it is in the safekeeping and under the shelter and protection
of the Ancient Beauty, and obedience to its decisions is a
bounden and essential duty and an absolute obligation, and there
is no escape for anyone.

Say, O People: Verily the Supreme House of Justice is under
the wings of your Lord, the Compassionate, the All-Merciful, that
is under His protection, His care, and His shelter; for He has
commanded the firm believers to obey that blessed, sanctified, and
all-subduing body, whose sovereignty is divinely ordained and of
the Kingdom of Heaven and whose laws are inspired and
spiritual.[311]

[311 'Abdu'l-Bahá quoted in the Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 84-5.]

Even a cursory review of the workings of the House of Justice since its establishment in 1963 makes it clear to a believer that the assurances given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá have all been fulfilled, that every directive issued by that body has been divinely inspired and that every plan it has devised and every act it has carried out have been blessed by Providence. Its achievements and victories, both at the World Centre of the Faith and around the world, and the progress it has made during the last three decades despite its modest resources, have been miraculous. In circumstances of crisis as well as triumph, the House of Justice has been enabled to steer the Bahá'í community on the course set for it by the hand of the Almighty. All these accomplishments are entirely due to the assistance and confirmations of Bahá'u'lláh, which have reached it continuously and guided every step it has taken in the execution of God's plan for mankind.

It is natural that the members of the House of Justice are always conscious of that outpouring of divine assistance; they know only too well that the decisions of the House are guided by Bahá'u'lláh. They have openly declared before their electors their sense of unworthiness to serve on that august institution but have confidently taken on the burden of such immense responsibility in the assurance of the protection, guidance and confirmations of Bahá'u'lláh that reach them during their deliberations.

One of the most important decisions made by the Universal House of Justice soon after its election was to clarify the issue of another Guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi. As we have already stated in chapter 37, since 'Abdu'l-Baba remained silent about how to deal with the situation in which there was no lineal descendant of Shoghi Effendi or another Ghusn to succeed him as the second Guardian, the question had to be resolved by the House of Justice and not the Guardian of the Faith. The following statement was issued on 6 October 1963:

After prayerful and careful study of the Holy Texts bearing upon
the question of the appointment of the successor to Shoghi Effendi
as Guardian of the Cause of God, and after prolonged consultation
which included consideration of the views of the Hands of the
Cause of God residing in the Holy Land, the Universal House of
Justice finds that there is no way to appoint or legislate to make
it possible to appoint a second Guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi.[312]

[312 The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 11.]

A similar statement was issued by the House of Justice concerning the Hands of the Cause of God:

There is no way to appoint, or to legislate to make it possible to
appoint, Hands of the Cause of God.

Responsibility for decisions of matters of general policy affecting
the institution of the Hands of the Cause, which was formerly
exercised by the beloved Guardian, now devolves upon the Universal
House of Justice as the supreme and central institution of the
Faith to which all must turn.[313]

[313 ibid. p. 41. (The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance.)]

There were other issues that the House of Justice also had to resolve because the absence of a second Guardian created a situation for which Abdu'l-Bahá had left no guidance and for which no provision had been made. In other words, the holy writings did not deal with certain issues and therefore their resolution needed the legislation of the House of Justice. For example, among the buildings which Shoghi Effendi recommended to be constructed on a far-flung arc on Mount Carmel was the Seat of the institution of the Guardianship, as well as that of the Hands of the Cause. The House of Justice had to legislate to change these into the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts and the Seat of the International Teaching Centre.

To give another example of a situation about which there was no specific guidance, 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament states that the Guardian has the right to expel any member of the House of Justice who commits 'a sin injurious to the common weal'. But he does not say what should be done if there is no Guardian and so the House of Justice decided that this function should fall upon the Universal House of Justice itself.

In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes some of the functions of the Universal House of Justice:

37-WT It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal
House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon
all problems which have caused difference, questions that are
obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.
Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.
And inasmuch as this House of Justice hath power to enact laws
that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily
transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same. Thus, for
example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and
enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having
profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, another
House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies
of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because that law
formeth no part of the Divine Explicit Text. The House of Justice
is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.

25-WT And now, concerning the House of Justice which God
hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error,
it must be elected by universal suffrage, that is, by the believers.
Its members must be manifestations of the fear of God and
daysprings of knowledge and understanding, must be steadfast
in God's faith and the well-wishers of all mankind. By this House
is meant the Universal House of Justice, that is, in all countries
a secondary House of Justice must be instituted, and these
secondary Houses of Justice must elect the members of the
Universal one. Unto this body all things must be referred. It
enacteth all ordinances and regulations that are not to be found
in the explicit Holy Text. By this body all the difficult problems
are to be resolved and the guardian of the Cause of God is its
sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body.
Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint
one to represent him. Should any of the members commit a sin,
injurious to the common weal, the guardian of the Cause of God
hath at his own discretion the right to expel him...

In these two passages, 'Abdu'l-Bahá gives a wide range of authority to the House of Justice. It has to make decisions on the following:

'All problems which cause difference'

'Questions that are obscure'

'Matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book'

'Unto this body all things must be referred'

'It enacteth all ordinances and regulations that are not to be
found in the explicit Holy Text'

'By this body all the difficult problems are to be resolved'

These, together with the exhortations of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, constitute a list of duties and functions which the Universal House of Justice must discharge. These functions exclude 'interpretation of the Holy Text', which is a special prerogative of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi as authorized Interpreters of the Word of God. There is a vast difference between the interpretations of the Guardian and the elucidations of the House of Justice in the exercise of its function to 'deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure, and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book'. The elucidation of the House of Justice originates from its legislative function. It offers guidance and elucidates what must be done in cases where there is some ambiguity in the interpretations of the Guardian or 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The legislation of the House of Justice is based on the elucidation of the issues involved and can be amended by the House of Justice when circumstances change, whereas the interpretations of the Guardian are statements of truth that cannot be changed.

As previously stated, an important feature of the functioning of the House of Justice is that it consults the writings of the Guardian when it begins the process of legislation or is about to make decisions on various issues. In this way, it ensures that its pronouncements are not in conflict with the meaning of the holy text as interpreted by the Guardian. Thus until the end of this Dispensation, there will be a meaningful interaction between the two pillars of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh, namely the institution of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. Far from being divorced from each other, these two institutions will ensure their organic unity and will guarantee the sound development of the Bahá'í community through the integration of the interpretative and legislative functions of the Administrative Order.

In His Will and Testament 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

25-WT ...the guardian of the Cause of God is its [the Universal
House of Justice] sacred head and the distinguished member for
life of that body.

While this situation did not materialize, we observe a great wisdom in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's appointment of the Guardian as the head of the House of Justice. The result was that the House of Justice decided not to have officers. In the House of Justice all members have equal responsibility; each one is a servant of Bahá'u'lláh.

The membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men, a position taken from the explicit writings of Bahá'u'lláh and therefore not subject to change through legislation of the House of Justice. The fact that the members of the House of Justice are men should not be regarded as a negation of the principle of the equality of men and women proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh in His teachings. Concerning the equality of men and women, 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is the equality of women
and men. The world of humanity has two wings — one is women
and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can
the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not
until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in
the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity
be attained as they ought to be.[314]

[314 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p. 302.]

To appreciate this apparent contradiction, one should look at different aspects of equality. First, there is the equality of the spirit. We are told that although God has created men and women to be physically different, there is no difference between the soul of a man and the soul of a woman. Both have the same attributes of God and are created in His image and this is the most important aspect of equality. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Baha, women are
accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind
in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and
women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from
the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them.
Whosoever draweth nearer to God, that one is the most favoured,
whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, ardent and
devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Baha, proved superior
to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.[315]

[315 ibid. pp .79-80. ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections.)]

Another aspect of equality is that of rights and privileges. Here again 'Abdu'l-Bahá is unequivocal:

In the Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh, women are advancing side by
side with the men. There is no area or instance where they will lag
behind: they have equal rights with men, and will enter, in the
future, into all branches of the administration of society. Such will
be their elevation that, in every area of endeavour, they will occupy
the highest levels in the human world[.316]

[316 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Compilation, vol. 1, p. 416.]

Equality, however, should not be confused with identity of function, as it is not always possible for women and men to perform identical functions.

Bahá'u'lláh, in creating the institution of the Universal House of Justice, has limited its membership to men. In a Tablet, 'Abdu'l-Bahá confirms this:

According to the ordinances of the Faith of God, women are the
equals of men in all rights save only that of membership on
the Universal House of Justice, for, as hath been stated in the text
of the Book, both the head and the members of the House of Justice
must be men. However, in all other bodies, such as the Temple
Construction Committee, the Teaching Committee, the Spiritual
Assembly, and in charitable and scientific associations, women share
equally in all rights with men.[317]

[317 Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to Corinne True, translated by the Bahá'í World Centre, 1977. The original translation was made by Ameen Farid on 29 July 1909.]

The wisdom of Bahá'u'lláh's injunction is not apparent today because we are too close to this nascent institution. However 'Abdu'l-Bahá has promised that the wisdom of this commandment of Bahá'u'lláh will become clear in the future:

The House of Justice, however, 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.[318]

[318 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, p. 80.]

The Guardian commented:

The Bahá'ís should accept this statement of the Master in a spirit
of deep faith, confident that there is a divine guidance and wisdom
behind it which will be gradually unfolded to the eyes of the
world.[319]

[319 From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 28 July 1936, in Compilation, vol. 2, p. 369.]

And the Universal House of Justice has made the following point:

To the general premise that women and men have equality in the
Faith, this, as often explained by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, is a fundamental
principle deriving from Bahá'u'lláh and therefore His mention of
the 'Men of Justice' in the Kitab-i-Aqdas should be considered in
light of that principle.[320]

[320 From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 29 June 1976 in ibid. p. 371. (Compilation, vol. 2.)]

The Seat of the Universal House of Justice is on Mount Cannel in Haifa, as foretold by Bahá'u'lláh in the Tablet of Carmel, the charter for the building of the World Centre of the Faith. In one of his letters to the Bahá'ís of the East, Shoghi Effendi elucidates some of the significances of the Tablet of Carmel and, in particular, the passage: 'Ere long will God sail His Ark upon Thee, and will manifest the people of Baha who have been mentioned in the Book of Names.'[321]

[321 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p. 5.]

In this great Tablet [of Cannel] which unveils divine mysteries and
heralds the establishment of two mighty, majestic and momentous
undertakings — one of which is spiritual and the other administrative,
both at the World Centre of the Faith — Bahá'u'lláh refers to an 'Ark',
whose dwellers are the men of the Supreme House of Justice, which,
in conformity with the exact provisions of the Will and Testament
of the Centre of the Mighty Covenant, is the body which should
lay down laws not explicitly revealed in the Text. In this Dispensation,
these laws are destined to flow from this Holy Mountain, even as
in the Mosaic Dispensation the law of God was promulgated from
Zion. The 'sailing of the Ark of His laws is a reference to the
establishment of the Universal House of Justice, which is indeed
the Seat of Legislation, one of the branches of the World Administrative
Centre of the Bahá'ís on this Holy Mountain...[322]

[322 Letter written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'ís of the East, Naw-Ruz 111-1954, in Compilation, vol. 1, pp. 341-2.]

In their writings Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá counsel the Universal House of Justice to promote the best interests of mankind and to work for the betterment of the affairs of the world. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh thus reveals:

O ye Men of Justice! Be ye, in the realm of God, shepherds unto
His sheep and guard them from the ravening wolves that have
appeared in disguise, even as ye would guard your own sons. Thus
exhorteth you the Counsellor, the Faithful.[323]

[323 Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, para. 52.]

In a Tablet, the Kalimat-i-Firdawsiyyih, Bahá'u'lláh addresses the members of the Universal House of Justice in these words:

We exhort the men of the House of Justice and command them
to ensure the protection and safeguarding of men, women and
children. It is incumbent upon them to have the utmost regard for
the interests of the people at all times and under all conditions.
Blessed is the ruler who succoureth the captive, and the rich one
who careth for the poor, and the just one who secureth from the
wrong doer the rights of the downtrodden, and happy the trustee
who observeth that which the Ordainer, the Ancient of Days hath
prescribed unto him.[324]

[324 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, pp. 69-70.]

And in the Tablet of Ishraqat He reveals:

The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity
of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are
among the principles and ordinances of God. Religion bestoweth
upon man the most precious of all gifts, offereth the cup of prosperity
imparteth eternal life, and showers imperishable benefits
upon mankind. It behoveth the chiefs and rulers of the world, and
in particular the Trustees of God's House of Justice, to endeavour
to the utmost of their power to safeguard its position, promote its
interests and exalt its station in the eyes of the world. In like
manner it is incumbent upon them to enquire into the conditions
of their subjects and to acquaint themselves with the affairs and
activities of the divers communities in their dominions. We call
upon the manifestations of the power of God — the sovereigns and
rulers on earth — to bestir themselves and do all in their power that
haply they may banish discord from this world and illumine it with
the light of concord.[325]

[325 ibid. pp. 129-30. (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets.)]

From the foregoing statements made by Bahá'u'lláh and the exhortations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament, it is clear that the Universal House of Justice is the protector of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh and the channel through which the forces of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh will flow to mankind. Through this august institution the unity of the Bahá'í community and the integrity of the Faith will be preserved. One of the causes of disunity in former Dispensations has been that the leaders of religion and men of learning have differed in their interpretations of the teachings of their faith and through their conflicting views they have created divisions within their communities. But in this Dispensation the door opening the way to allow such controversies is completely closed.

In the last passage of His Will and Testament 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

55-WT To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion
or express his particular conviction. All must seek guidance and
turn unto the Centre of the Cause and the House of Justice. And
he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error.
The Glory of Glories rest upon you!

Bahá'ís give credence to the interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and consider them to be authentic and infallible, while any statement of an individual that is contrary to the spirit and form of the authorized interpretations of the Word of God is not acceptable. Furthermore, no pronouncements by the learned on various aspects of the Faith are considered valid unless sanctioned by the Universal House of Justice. The following commentary on the subject is from the pen of 'Abdu'l-Bahá:

Briefly, this is the wisdom of referring the laws of society to the
House of Justice. In the religion of Islam, similarly, not every
ordinance was explicitly revealed; nay not a tenth part of a tenth
part was included in the Text; although all matters of major
importance were specifically referred to, there were undoubtedly
thousands of laws which were unspecified. These were devised by
the divines of a later age according to the laws of Islamic jurisprudence,
and individual divines made conflicting deductions from
the original revealed ordinances. All these were enforced. Today
this process of deduction is the right of the body of the House of
Justice, and the deductions and conclusions of individual learned
men have no authority, unless they are endorsed by the House of
Justice. The difference is precisely this, that from the conclusions
and endorsements of the body of the House of Justice whose
members are elected by and known to the worldwide Bahá'í
community, no differences will arise; whereas the conclusions of
individual divines and scholars would definitely lead to differences,
and result in schism, division, and dispersion. The oneness of the
Word would be destroyed, the unity of the Faith would disappear,
and the edifice of the Faith of God would be shaken.[326]

[326 'Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Introduction to Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 5.]

This statement must not lead the reader to think that the hands of Bahá'í scholars are tied or that they are unable to undertake their own research and reach their own conclusions on matters connected with the Faith. On the contrary, every believer is free to read the writings and make his own interpretation, as long as he makes it clear that his views are his own and are not authoritative. The Universal House of Justice has clarified this subject:

A clear distinction is made in our Faith between authoritative
interpretation and the interpretation or understanding that each
individual arrives at for himself from his study of its teachings.
While the former is confined to the Guardian, the latter, according
to the guidance given to us by the Guardian himself, should by no
means be suppressed. In fact such individual interpretation is
considered the fruit of man's rational power and conducive to a
better understanding of the teachings, provided that no disputes
or arguments arise among the friends and the individual himself
understands and makes it clear that his views are merely his own.
Individual interpretations continually change as one grows in
comprehension of the teachings. As Shoghi Effendi explained: 'To
deepen in the Cause means to read the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and
the Master so thoroughly as to be able to give it to others in its
pure form. There are many who have some superficial idea of what
the Cause stands for. They, therefore, present it together with all
sorts of ideas that are their own. As the Cause is still in its early
days we must be most careful lest we fall into this error and injure
the Movement we so much adore. There is no limit to the study
of the Cause. The more we read the Writings, the more truths we
can find in them and the more we will see that our previous notions
were erroneous.' So, although individual insights can be enlightening
and helpful, they can also be misleading. The friends must
therefore learn to listen to the views of others without being over-awed
or allowing their faith to be shaken, and to express their own
views without pressing them on their fellow Bahá'ís.[327]

[327 From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 27 May 1966, in Compilation, vol. 1, p. 358.]

In every Dispensation, the Manifestation of God has promulgated a number of teachings and ordinances that may be described as the framework of that religion. These teachings have been designed by God to bring about the advancement of those who have embraced them. They are always adapted to suit the condition of the people and are given according to their capacity. As a result of the application of these teachings in their lives, the members of a religious community develop higher levels of understanding. In the course of their progress they eventually reach a position where the teachings of their religion no longer adequately satisfy their spiritual and mental needs. When the teachings and laws of a religion become outdated, when they are no longer practicable in a new age, the followers have arrogated to themselves the right to amend or alter these teachings so that they will conform with new conditions prevailing at the time. But man has no right to interfere with the revealed teachings of God. Only a new Manifestation of God can abrogate the laws of a previous Dispensation and bring new laws for a new age. Otherwise, man's interference will cause the teachings of a religion to become adulterated.

Bahá'u'lláh envisaged — and this has already become evident — that in His Dispensation man will advance and progress at an unprecedented rate, needing new laws at every stage of his development. Therefore, He empowered the Universal House of Justice to enact secondary laws befitting the circumstances of the time, laws which can later be altered as conditions change. It must be noted, however, that the teachings, laws and ordinances revealed by Bahá'u'lláh Himself are unalterable until the advent of a future Manifestation of God, who will have the right to abrogate them. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

Those matters of major importance which constitute the foundation
of the Law of God are explicitly recorded in the Text, but subsidiary
laws are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that
the times never remain the same, for change is a necessary quality
and an essential attribute of this world, and of time and place.
Therefore the House of Justice will take action accordingly.[328]

[328 'Abdu'l-Bahá quoted in the Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 84.]

A significant development since the establishment of the House of Justice is that the Covenant-breakers — especially those in the Holy Land — have been effectively thwarted in their plans and their fortunes have declined to the point of impotence.


[page 389]

Gone are the days after the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, when an ignoble band of faithless men and women, including most members of His family and headed by no less a person than Bahá'u'lláh's son, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, rose up against the Master with all their power and prestige and tried to wrest from Him the reins of the Cause of God, which had been entrusted to Him by His heavenly Father.

Gone are the days when some of the most erudite and outstanding teachers of the Faith, together with a number of influential men who ranked foremost in the community, rebelled against 'Abdu'l-Bahá, viciously attacked the newly born institution of the Covenant and caused grievous convulsions within the community of the Most Great Name.

Gone are the days when falsehoods and outrageous misrepresentations against the Centre of the Covenant by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali gained credibility among the people, both within and without this small and seemingly fragile community.

Gone are the days when the Master was maliciously accused in public by His unfaithful brothers of the most heinous crimes, causing alarm and apprehension within government circles in the Holy Land and further afield at the heart of the Ottoman Empire.

Gone are the days when, through his persistent machinations and intrigues, the Arch-breaker of the Covenant succeeded in poisoning the mind of the Sultan of Turkey to such an extent that he ordered 'Abdu'l-Bahá's incarceration within the walls of the prison city, an ordeal which He endured for eight years.

And gone are the days when the youthful Guardian of the Cause was subjected to untold sufferings at the hands of the members of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's family and the old Covenant-breakers, who, assisted by a number of erstwhile outstanding teachers of the Faith — then violators of the Covenant — opposed him for more than three decades.

Now, with the establishment of the Universal House of Justice, the situation is changed and the precious institution of the Covenant bequeathed by Bahá'u'lláh to His followers has been greatly fortified. Although there will always be some souls from among the followers who, from time to time, will rebel against the Cause of God and arise to break the Covenant, they will never be able to divide the Faith into sects and destroy the unity of its community. The truth of this can be seen in the history of the Faith. For almost one hundred years, desperate endeavours were made by various groups of Covenant-breakers who launched fierce onslaughts against the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh in order to bring about schism within its worldwide community. And despite all this, their efforts were in vain and they failed miserably in their objectives. Bahá'u'lláh has thus clearly proven that this is a 'day that shall not be followed by night'.[329]

[329 Bahá'u'lláh, in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 245.]

In the Will and Testament 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

25-WT This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government
enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the
executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body
so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces,
the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and
strong, that all the regions of the world may become even as
Paradise itself.

This relationship between the Universal House of Justice and the governments, described by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, refers to the time when the authority of the Universal House of Justice will have been recognized by the nations of the world. At that time the legislature and the executive constituting the essential components of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh will harmoniously interact. The supreme authority of


[page 390]

the House of Justice, divinely conferred upon it, will be the guarantor of the unity of the nations and peoples of the world.

In response to a question about 'the government' stated in the passage of the Will and Testament cited above, Shoghi Effendi's secretary wrote on his behalf:

By 'Government'... is meant the executive body which will enforce
the laws when the Bahá'í Faith has reached the point when it is
recognized and accepted entirely by any particular nation.[330]

[330 From letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 18 April 1941, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1604, p. 483.]

And in another letter Shoghi Effendi stated:

Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled differently
in future, but they will be enabled also to add to their present
functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives necessitated by
the recognition of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, not merely as one of
the recognized religious systems of the world, but as the State
Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power. And as the
Bahá'í Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West,
and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a
number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal
House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise,
as the supreme organ of the Bahá'í Commonwealth, all the rights,
the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world's future
super-state.[331]

[331 Shoghi Effendi, World Order, pp. 6-7.]

Envisioning the mighty victories of the future, Shoghi Effendi foretells in his letters to the Persian believers that through the guidance of the Universal House of Justice the Cause of God will be exalted and the sovereignty of Bahá'u'lláh will be made manifest to the peoples of the world. The following passages are translated from one of these letters:

The National Spiritual Assemblies, like unto pillars, will be gradually
and firmly established in every country on the strong and
fortified foundations of the Local Assemblies. On these pillars; the
mighty edifice, the Universal House of Justice, will be erected,
raising high its noble frame above the world of existence. The
unity of the followers of Bahá'u'lláh will thus be realized and
fulfilled from one end of the earth to the other ... and the living
waters of everlasting life will stream forth from that fountain-head
of God's World Order upon all the warring nations and peoples
of the world, to wash away the evils and iniquities of the realm of
dust, and heal man's age-old ills and ailments...[332]

[332 Letter of Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'ís of Persia, 27 November 1929, translated from the Persian in Compilation, vol. 1, p. 333.]

Then will the Throne of Bahá'u'lláh's sovereignty be founded in
the promised land and the scales of justice be raised on high. Then


[page 391]

will the banner of the independence of the Faith be unfurled, and
His Most Great Law be unveiled and rivers of laws and ordinances
stream forth from this snow-white spot with all-conquering power
and awe-inspiring majesty, the like of which past ages have never
seen. Then will appear the truth of what was revealed by the
Tongue of Grandeur: 'Call out to Zion, O Carmel, and announce
the joyful tidings: He that was hidden from mortal eyes is come!
His all-conquering sovereignty is manifest; His all-encompassing
splendour is revealed.' '...O Carmel ... Well is it with him that
circleth around thee, that proclaimeth the revelation of thy glory,
and recounteth that which the bounty of the Lord, thy God, hath
showered upon thee... Ere long will God sail His Ark upon thee,
and will manifest the people of Baha who have been mentioned
in the Book of Names.'

Through it the pillars of the Faith on this earth will be firmly
established and its hidden powers be revealed, its signs shine forth,
its banners be unfurled and its light be shed upon all peoples.[333]

[333 Letter of Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'ís of Persia, 27 November 1929, translated from the Arabic in ibid. pp. 333-4. (Compilation, vol. 1.)]


[page 392]

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