Monday, March 23, 2009

Who guides the Universal House of Justice?

Who, according to the Baha'i Writings, guides, as Abdu'l-Baha terms it, "the body of the House of Justice whose members are elected by and known to the worldwide Baha'i Community?" (Abdu'l-Baha, quoted in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, paragraph 35.8, p. 86)

From the Writings of Baha'u'llah
The starting point is the words of Baha'u'llah Himself. In the Eighth Leaf of the Words of the Exalted Paradise, Baha'u'llah writes “God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient." (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh p. 68)


Shoghi Effendi states that this verse from Baha'u'llah bears specific relation to the elected membership of the Universal House of Justice:


In the conduct of the administrative affairs of the Faith, in the enactment of the legislation necessary to supplement the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the members of the Universal House of Justice, it should be borne in mind, are not, as Bahá'u'lláh's utterances clearly imply, responsible to those whom they represent, nor are they allowed to be governed by the feelings, the general opinion, and even the convictions of the mass of the faithful, or of those who directly elect them. They are to follow, in a prayerful attitude, the dictates and promptings of their conscience. They may, indeed they must, acquaint themselves with the conditions prevailing among the community, must weigh dispassionately in their minds the merits of any case presented for their consideration, but must reserve for themselves the right of an unfettered decision.
"God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth," is Bahá'u'lláh's incontrovertible assurance. They, and not the body of those who either directly or indirectly elect them, have thus been made the recipients of the divine guidance which is at once the life-blood and ultimate safeguard of this Revelation.
(The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 153)

Here, the Interpreter of the Word of God interprets this verse. He expressly states that when Baha'u'llah promises that “God will verily inspire them,” this is Baha'u'llah's “incontrovertible assurance” that the elected membership of the Universal House of Justice in consultation is the recipient of unfailing divine guidance, that flows through the “dictates and promptings of their conscience.”

From the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha
The second place we can find the answer to this question is the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha. This Document is the very Covenant of Abdu'l-Baha. As we know, a Covenant has two parties—God and humanity. This verse from Abdu'l-Baha sets forth God's promise, God's part of Abdu'l-Baha's Covenant:

"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 Abhá Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of His Holiness, the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both)."
(The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 11)

This statement from Abdu'l-Baha shows that the guidance from God promised by Baha'u'llah to both the Guardian of the Cause and the Universal House of Justice, come through both of the Manifestations of God. The “Abha Beauty” is Baha'u'llah, and the “Exalted One” is the Bab.

Shoghi Effendi was asked about his own infallible guidance, and he referred his questioner to this very verse:


“The Guardian's infallibility covers interpretation of the Revealed Word and its application. Likewise any instructions he may issue having to do with the protection of the Faith, or its well being must be closely obeyed, as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith. He is assured the guidance of both Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb, as the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá clearly reveals."
(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, August 20, 1956; Lights of Guidance, p. 313, #1055)

This verse in which God covenants—solemnly promises—that the Bab and Baha'u'llah guide the Guardian of the Cause, covenants no less emphatically that the Bab and Baha'u'llah guide the Universal House of Justice.
That this promise specifically refers to the House of Justice, that it has its own assurance of unfailing divine guidance, is shown in the fuller text of that verse from the Will:

"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!”

(The Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 11)


These words from that verse specify humanity's part of the Covenant—to turn to the Guardian and to the Universal House of Justice:

“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...”


A passage from the Baha'i Writings promising God's unfailing guidance to the Universal House of Justice functioning with only its elected membership is found in the Second Part of the Master's Will. We are directed by the House of Justice to study this Second Part of the Master's Will in connection with the provisions to be taken if the threats against the Master's life came to pass. We should take this direction from the House of Justice to heart, because, as Shoghi Effendi wrote, "We must trust to time, and the guidance of God's Universal House of Justice, to obtain a clearer and fuller understanding" of the "provisions and implications" of the Master's Will and Testament. (Baha'i Administration, p. 63)

The Master explains why He is writing, at the beginning of this Second Part of His Will, "I am now in very great danger and the hope of even an hour's life is lost to me." (P. 19) He is writing His Covenant to provide for the Succession after Him. Shoghi Effendi confirms that Abdu'l-Baha revealed His Will at "an hour of grave suspense” (God Passes By, p. 268) when His life was in “imminent danger.” (Unfolding Destiny, p. 251)



Shoghi Effendi as a child
Copyright 2006 Baha'i International Community
Reproduced with permission
Please click image for larger picture

This was likely in 1905 (Momen, The Babi and Baha'i Religions 1844-1944, p. 322) when the Second Commission of Inquiry threatened the life of 'Abdu'l Baha. Had these threats materialized, Shoghi Effendi, still 7 or 8 years of age, would have been too young to perform the duties of the Guardianship, and this is reflected in the language of the Will, and in what is absent from the Will. In this Part of His Will, the Master makes no mention of Shoghi Effendi or of the institution of the Guardianship; rather, He refers only to the elected members of that Body:

"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. By this House is meant that Universal House of Justice which is to be elected from all countries, that is from those parts in the East and West where the loved ones are to be found, after the manner of the customary elections in Western countries such as those of England.... 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."

(The Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 19-20)

The Master here provided that it was incumbent upon "these members" to deliberate, and He identifies "these members" as those who were to be "elected from all countries, that is from those parts in the East and West where the loved ones are to be found, after the manner of the customary elections in Western countries...." Again, He makes no reference to the Universal House of Justice functioning with Shoghi Effendi, nor does He refer to the Institution of the Guardianship. As we see from this passage, nowhere does He indicate that in such circumstances, without the presence of the Guardian to function as the "sacred Head" of that Body, to define the sphere of its legislative action, or to interpret the Word of God, that the House of Justice would be deprived of divine guidance. Rather, He wrote of the Universal House of Justice functioning with only its elected members, "That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the Truth and the Purpose of God Himself," and provides that its decisions will have "the same effect as the Text itself."


Abdu'l-Baha's Tablet to the cousin of the Bab directing him to arrange for the election of the Universal House of Justice
There is further confirmation that this is a legitimate inference—that in the Second Part of His Will, the Master was providing for the Universal House of Justice to be His Successor and to function as the Head of the Faith, without the Guardian, during the boyhood of Shoghi Effendi. It appears that at the same time Abdu'l-Baha wrote His Will, during “the darkest moments of His life, under Abdu'l-Hamid's regime, when He stood ready to be deported to the most inhospitable regions of Northern Africa” Abdu'l-Baha also wrote “His parting message to the cousin of the Báb,” Haji Mirza Taqi Afnan.
(The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 17)

In this Tablet, which is undated, Abdu'l-Baha states that His life is in grave danger. He instructs the cousin of the Bab to gather the Afnan and the Hands of the Cause of God, and for them to carry out the provisions of His Will and Testament and establish the Universal House of Justice. This Universal House of Justice would not have included Shoghi Effendi, and would have been composed of only its elected membership for more than a decade, until Shoghi Effendi reached the age at which he could assume his responsibilities as Guardian of the Cause. In fact, had Shoghi Effendi been of age, this instruction would have been given to him instead of to the cousin of the Bab.

We know that by 1921 the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha was contained in an envelope addressed to Shoghi Effendi. (The Priceless Pearl, p. 41) If when the Master's life had earlier been threatened, Shoghi Effendi had been at an age at which he was able to assume the role of Guardian, these instructions Abdu'l-Baha gave to the Afnan would instead have been given to Shoghi Effendi. It is reasonable to assume that the Master wrote the Second Part of His Will, which makes no mention of the Guardianship and directs that the Universal House of Justice be elected, and this Tablet to the cousin of the Bab which also directs that the Universal House of Justice be elected, when Shoghi Effendi was a boy. That is, Abdu'l-Baha provided for the Universal House of Justice to function with only its elected membership. It appears, then, that Abdu'l-Baha wrote the First Part of His Will when Shoghi Effendi was a boy; in this Part of His Will, He provides that the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice would function together. In the Second Part of His Will, in which He states that it was written when His life was in imminent peril, He provides for the Universal House of Justice to be elected after His passing, and promises that its decisions will be the truth and the purpose of God Himself. Inasmuch as the Master's Tablet directing that the Universal House of Justice be elected if the threats against His life materialize, was addressed to the Bab's cousin and not to Shoghi Effendi, this also confirms that He provided for the Universal House of Justice to function without the presence of the Guardian of the Cause. The crisis having passed, the Master later wrote the Third Part of His Will, which closes with His final words of guidance to the human race--to turn to the Universal House of Justice and the Guardian of the Cause. The three parts of the Will form one coherent whole. However, the divine promise of infallible guidance is flexible enough to provide for different circumstances. The Will provides God's Covenant to guide the Cause with the Twin Institutions functioning together, or with either of them functioning independently of the other. Each of them is independently promised infallible divine guidance. Either of them can lead the Faith, assured that it is guided to promote the best interests of the Faith.


Since Abdu'l-Baha provided that the Universal House of Justice would function infallibly before the Guardian of the Cause wrote a single authoritative word, it obviously does so now, when it has the promise of Baha'u'llah that "God will verily guide them" and the promise of Abdu'l-Baha that it receives the "protection" and the "unerring guidance" of both the "Abha Beauty" and "His Holiness, the Exalted One," as well as the incalculable benefit of the multitude of Shoghi Effendi's writings.

4 comments:

  1. Great stuff pilgrimbrent! Just read this after clicking the link on Planet Baha'i . This asuccinct and accessible essay on the subject and I am glad to have stumbled upoun it. I look forwards to reading more. You are indeed a wonderful 'webservant' and defender of this Faith.
    Kind Regards
    LR

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  2. This essay certainly pushed back some of my walls! To the best if my memory I had never heard that the "Exaulted One" referred to the Bab, and my eyes widened when I read what you wrote.
    Happy, yes I am happy. I have wondered why, though we say His prayers, and teach about Him, He seemed to fade into the Abha Kingdom with no further influence here, on this plane. How blind I have been, for there, in the writings, He was often mentioned, and, I believe, He might be the one you were asking who Baha'u'llah was speaking of when you asked the four qestions.
    Tell me more - I can't wait to read more. It seems every paragraph offers a new light to my understanding of the Covenant. Oh how I want to learn more, I can hardly wait for the next page.
    Jean

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  3. On pages 166 and 171 Baha'u'llah refers to the Bab as the Most Exalted One.

    On pages 4 and 19 of the Will, Shoghi Effendi makes clear in his translation that the Exalted One is the Bab.

    As to the continuing influence of the Bab in this world, Shoghi Effendi writes that along with Baha'u'llah, the Bab presides over the destinies of this Dispensation:

    "Dominating the entire range of this fascinating spectacle towers the incomparable figure of Bahá'u'lláh, transcendental in His majesty, serene, awe-inspiring, unapproachably glorious. Allied, though subordinate in rank, and invested with the authority of presiding with Him over the destinies of this supreme Dispensation, there shines upon this mental picture the youthful glory of the Báb, infinite in His tenderness, irresistible in His charm, unsurpassed in His heroism, matchless in the dramatic circumstances of His short yet eventful life." (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 97)

    I hope you will review the links on the right side of the page of this website and read some of the other articles, as well as reading the materials at www.covenantstudy.org

    Brent

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