The Universal House of Justice
Although Bahá’u'lláh had clearly given the laws and ordinances to his followers and these have been carefully explained and interpreted by his successors there is continuing need for authoritative rulings on the application of these laws and teachings to an ever-evolving society and on matters not clearly specified in the Bahá’í writings. Bahá’u'lláh made provision for this in his writings by instituting and elected body to be known as the Universal House of Justice.
“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.”
In his ‘Will and Testament,’ `Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:
…Unto the Most Holy Book everyone 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.
In clarifying still further the powers of this Supreme Body, `Abdu’l-Bahá in his ‘Will and Testament’ continued:
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…This it can do because that law formeth no part of the Divine Explicit Text.
`Abdu’l-Bahá’s will therefore provided for all contingencies – a guardian of the faith with powers of interpretation of scriptures and the elected Universal House of Justice to give authoritative decisions on the application of the laws and on all matters not recorded in Bahá’í scripture. Writing on these twin institutions in 1934 the Guardian said:
…The interpretation of the Guardian, functioning within his own sphere, is as authoritative and binding as the enactments of the International House of Justice, whose exclusive right and prerogative is to pronounce upon and deliver the final judgement on such laws and ordinances as Bahá’u’lláh has not expressly revealed. Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other. Neither will seek to curtail the specific and undoubted authority with which both have been divinely invested.
It was not until the one hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Bahá’u'lláh (21 April 1963) that the conditions were right for the election of this important body and on that date, in Haifa, at the World Centre of the Bahá’í Faith, representatives of the fifty six national spiritual assemblies then in existence, performed the task, as anticipated by Bahá’u'lláh himself and as spelled out in detail by`Abdu’l-Bahá.
Under its guidance the Bahá’í world community continued expanding at an increasing rate and the unity of the faith and its singleness of purpose have remained unimpaired. Whereas man made institutions tend to be prone to divisions as their basic membership increases, the Bahá’í administrative order, due to its unique scriptural origin, becomes stronger, more unified, more efficient as its world-wide membership grows.
In 1972 the Universal House of Justice published its own constitution which embodied all the specific scriptural provisions for its foundation, its powers and duties. In the by-laws of this constitution details were given of the nature of an international convention which would be held every five years to elect the members of the Universal House of Justice.
Every five years since 1963 the Universal House of Justice has been elected by members of the national spiritual assemblies of the Bahá’í world. These international conventions, held in Haifa, bring together an astonishing variety of peoples from all over the world who elect their international governing body by secret ballot, without any canvassing or electioneering, but in an atmosphere of prayer, devotion and great joy. Those unable to attend in person are able to vote by mailing their ballots. The international convention also provides a unique opportunity for delegates from all over the world to consult together.
(The Bahá’í Faith, Mary Perkins and Philip Hainsworth)
The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. 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 showereth 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.
(Baha’u'llah, Tablets of Baha’u'llah, p. 129)
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 sources 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 Ministers of the House of Justice that they 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.
(Baha’u'llah, Tablets of Baha’u'llah, p. 26)
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.
(Baha’u'llah, Tablets of Baha’u'llah, p. 68)
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; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God. May the wrath, the fierce indignation, the vengeance of God rest upon him!
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, paragraph 17, p. 11)
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.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, paragraph 36, p. 19)
All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center 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!
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, paragraph 55, p. 24)
The Most Holy Book is the Book to which all peoples shall refer, and in it the Laws of God have been revealed. Laws not mentioned in the Book should be referred to the decision of the Universal House of Justice. There will be no grounds for difference . . . Beware, beware lest anyone create a rift or stir up sedition. Should there be differences of opinion, the Supreme House of Justice would immediately resolve the problems. Whatever will be its decision, by majority vote, shall be the real truth, inasmuch as that House is under the protection, unerring guidance, and care of the one true Lord. He shall guard it from error and will protect it under the wing of His sanctity and infallibility. He who opposes it is cast out and will eventually be of the defeated.
(The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Messages 1963-1968, p. 47)
In a world writhing with pain and declining into chaos this community — the vanguard of the liberating forces of Bahá’u'lláh — succeeded in the years following ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing in raising high above the institutions established by its sister communities in East and West what may well constitute the chief pillar of that future House — a House which posterity will regard as the last refuge of a tottering civilization.
(Shoghí Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u'llah, p. 89)