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The Universal House of Justice
Excerpted from: The Bahá'í World

The Universal House of Justice is the supreme consultative administrative body of
the worldwide Bahá'í community. It is an institution representing the entire member-
ship of the Bahá'í movement and it has its seat at the Bahá'í World Centre (Haifa,
Israel), and elected every five years. The Universal House of Justice was designed by
Bahá'u'lláh himself and is charged with the enactment of his vision and strategy
according to the needs and developments of each period of time. It gives systematic
guidance to the worldwide membership of the Bahá'í movement through analyses of
the current situation, scenarios of the future development and objectives, instructions
for new lines of action, and encouragement and advice for pursuing existing activities.
It seeks to arouse initiative on all levels of activity and administration.


Bahá'u'lláh assersts that the chief instrument for the transformation of society and the achievement of lasting peace is the establishment of justice in every aspect of life. Bahá'u'lláh explains that the "purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men."(1) A conviction of the practicality of world unity, coupled with a dedication and willingness to work toward this goal, is the single most distinguishing characteristic of the Bahá'í community. The efforts of Bahá'ís around the world to build communities founded on cooperation and justice are guided by a unique system of administration established by Bahá'u'lláh himself.

The practical expression of the religious impulse in the modern age, Bahá'u'lláh says, is collective decision-making and collective action based on spiritual principles. To ensure that power is used as an instrument of justice, and that governance serves humanity's true needs, decision-making authority, he insists, must rest with corporate bodies and not be left in the hands of individuals. "In all things it is necessary to consult," is His advice.(2) "The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation."(3) Thus, although Bahá'u'lláh enunciated and reiterated certain fundamental spiritual truths, he also established laws and institutional mechanisms to ensure the realization of justice in human affairs.

The Bahá'í administrative order, as desgined by Bahá'u'lláh, defines a pattern of cooperative decision-making and social interaction that cultivates the moral and creative capacities latent in human nature. It provides a model of the institutional structures necessary for global community life -- a pattern of living that embraces diversity and fosters mutuality of purpose, compassion, and rectitude of conduct. A singular feature of this administrative system is the balance it strikes between preserving individual freedom and promoting the collective good.

Founded on a set of unique consultative and electoral principles that are democratic in spirit and method, the Bahá'í administrative order is organized around freely elected governing councils which operate at the local, national, and international levels. This hierarchy devolves decision-making to the lowest practicable level -- thereby instituting a unique vehicle for grassroots participation in governance -- while at the same time providing a level of coordination and authority that makes possible cooperation on a global scale. Bahá'u'lláh called these governing councils "Houses of Justice."

The Universal House of Justice today guides the activities of the global Bahá'í community. This body was instituted by Bahá'u'lláh himself as the supreme legislative organ of the Bahá'í administrative order. Its members, Bahá'u'lláh wrote, are "the Trustees of God among His servants."(4) The Universal House of Justice itself states that "The provenance, the authority, the duties, the sphere of action of the Universal House of Justice all derive from the revealed Word of Bahá'u'lláh which ... constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation."(5)

The administration of the Bahá'í Faith on the national and local levels is presently carried out by national and local Spiritual Assemblies. These elected institutions function in accordance with the same consultative principles as the Universal House of Justice and will eventually be called Houses of Justice

The relationship between the Universal House of Justice and the national and local governing bodies that support it has an extremely important feature. Having arrived at a period in which humanity is awakening to new powers of reason and perception, Bahá'u'lláh pays particular attention to the development of decision-making skills at the grassroots of human society. Thus, the Bahá'í administrative order devolves authority to national and local levels to engender new patterns of interaction and participation, especially among individuals and groups that have been historically excluded from decision-making. Consequently, responsibility for the implementation of Bahá'u'lláh's spiritual and social principles essentially resides with National and Local Spiritual Assemblies. It is these bodies that are charged with ensuring that Bahá'u'lláh's prescription of moral renewal and harmonious community life is realized. In addition, national and local Bahá'í administrative institutions are enjoined by Bahá'u'lláh to ensure that Bahá'í communities promote the interests and abide by the laws of localities, regions, and nations. Loyalty and obedience to the governments under which Bahá'ís reside obtain whether or not Bahá'ís constitute numerical majorities. In any particular nation, the National Spiritual Assembly has specific responsibility for effecting conformity with this vital principle. In this regard, the Universal House of Justice serves as the ultimate guarantor of the Bahá'í community's adherence to the laws and ordinances of Bahá'u'lláh in all parts of the world.

The Universal House of Justice was instituted when, in 1963, members of National Spiritual Assemblies from around the globe, in an atmosphere of deep reflection and profound devotion, elected nine individuals from among the Bahá'ís of the world as members of this institution. The manner of the election itself was befitting that institution. Conducted by secret ballot, the Bahá'í electoral process prohibits the nomination and presentation of candidates, thereby giving maximum freedom of choice to each elector and avoiding the partisanship and power-seeking behavior so characteristic of conventional political elections. The election of the Universal House of Justice takes place every five years in the same atmosphere of spirituality and dedication. At the most recent international convention in April 1998, delegates from more than 160 national communities participated in the election.

Beyond its institutional importance, the establishment of the Universal House of Justice symbolized the distinguishing characteristic which Bahá'ís regard as the essence of their Faith: unity. No matter how wholehearted and sincere, faith alone cannot ensure that the unity of a religious community will endure. The emergence of the Universal House of Justice as the guiding authority in all the affairs of the community meant that the Bahá'í Faith had remained united through the most critical period of a religion's history, the vulnerable first century during which schism almost invariably takes root.

In addition to its responsibility for guiding the growth and development of the global Bahá' community, the Universal House of Justice is counselled by Bahá'u'lláh to exert a positive influence on the general welfare of humankind. It is called upon by Him to promote a permanent peace among the nations of the world so that "the people of the earth may be relieved from the burden of exorbitant expenditures," and freed from the "affliction" of "conflict."(6) It is also exhorted to take steps to ensure the "training of peoples, the upbuilding of nations, the protection of man and the safeguarding of his honor."(7) In accordance with these injunctions of Bahá'u'lláh, the Universal House of Justice has vigorously pursued a campaign promoting international peace and stability, and has set in motion a variety of initiatives in the areas of human rights, the advancement of women, and social and economic development In 1985, in a statement entitled The Promise of World Peace, addressed to "the peoples of the world" and presented to nearly all heads of state around the world, the Universal House of Justice outlined the essential prerequisites for the establishment of global peace and prosperity.

As stipulated by Bahá'u'lláh, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice is located on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, in close proximity to the resting places of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.


Notes

  1. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1995), p. 67.

  2. Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Consultation: A Compilation, Extracts from the Writings and Utterances of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980), p.3.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 128.

  5. Universal House of Justice, The Constitution of the Univeral House of Justice (Bahá'í World Centre, 1972), p. 4.

  6. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 89.

  7. Ibid., p. 125.



Copyright 2000    Bahá'í International Community


Introductory pages:

  • Bahá'u'lláh, a brief introduction.
  • Bahá'u'lláh, an introductory statement on his life and work.
  • The worldwide Bahá'í Community, a brief introduction.
  • Bahá'í International Community at the UN, an introductory description.
  • Some fundamental social concerns, a selection of solutions presented by Bahá'u'lláh.
  • A unique system of governance, an outline of Bahá'í administrative principles.
  • A century of sytematic social experiment, a brief descpription of Bahá'í history.


    Online current materials:

  • The Promise of World Peace?, a statement by the Universal House of Justice.
  • Who is Writing the Future?, a statement by the Bahá'í International Community.
  • The Prosperity of Humankind, a statement by the Bahá'í International Community.
  • Turning Point for All Nations, a statement by the Bahá'í International Community.

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    Izadi Home(page)    2000