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Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London

Posted by Sen on October 27, 2010

Towards the end of his life, Baha’u’llah wrote a number of works that included numbered lists of his teachings. Abdu’l-Baha also wrote several letters that include such numbered lists of essential teachings. Not surprisingly, Abdu’l-Baha sometimes adopted the same format when speaking to gatherings, however the records of these in English are often unreliable. One of these talks – one for which there are authenticated Persian notes (here), not just notes taken in English, caught my attention because it includes “the separation of religion and politics” as a key principle and also refers to this as “not entering into politics” — a formulation that will be more familiar to Bahais.

Address delivered by Abdu’l-Baha to a gathering of Bahais in London on the day of his departure, 3 October 1911 [however the Islamic date is given as 11 Shawwal 1329 = 5 October 1911, and some Persian texts say it was a Theosophical Society meeting in London 30 December 1911.]

He is God
O respected gathering, burning is the essential property of fire, and gleaming is the essential property of the power of lightening, shining is the essential property of the sun, and the essential property of soil is to promote growth. No dislocation is possible in the essential qualities of things. Therefore change and transformation, and transposition and alteration from one condition to another, come from the essential necessities of the contingent world. For example, the succession of seasons, of spring and summer, autumn and winter, and of day and night, flow from the essential qualities of the terrestrial world. Thus every spring is followed by autumn and every summer is followed by a winter, every day by a night, every dawn by an evening.

At a time when the divine religions had entirely decayed and the conduct of the people of the world had altered, when there were no glimmerings of the heavenly light to be seen, and benevolence was a thing of the past, when the darkness of bigotry and contention and slaughter reigned, and the winter with its gloom and cold prevailed, and shadows enveloped the world, Baha’u’llah arose on the horizon of Iran like a star. The lights of resplendent guidance shone out and the heavenly illumination dawned. He promulgated new teachings, reinvigorated the human virtues, revealed heavenly bounties and disclosed the power of spirituality. He brought the following fundamental principles into the world of existence, and promulgated them:

First, the investigation of reality. All religious communities are clinging to blind imitation and therefore are in complete disagreement with one another, and in bitter strife and conflict. However the appearance of reality uncovers this darkness and leads to unity in opinion. For reality admits no multiplicity.

Second, the unity of humanity. That is, all people are recipients of great and glorious favours, they are the servants of one God, they worship one Godhead. Mercy is extended to all, and every head is adorned with the crown of humanity. Therefore all the races and religious communities should consider themselves as brothers and sisters, they should regard themselves as the branches and leaves, the blossoms and fruit, of a single tree. For all of them are the descendants of Adam, all the pearls in one shell. At most, they are in need of education. They are ignorant, they are heedless, so they are should be guided. They are ill, they should be healed; they are children, they should be nurtured in the bosom of love so that they attain to maturity and reason; polishing is required until they are gleaming and luminous.

Third, religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity. If religion is made the cause of enmity it yields not solidarity but rather troubles, and the absence of religion is better than its existence. The abandonment of religion is preferable to this.

Fourth, religion and learning are twins that cannot be separated, or they are two wings on which you fly. A single wing will not suffice. Any religion that is bereft of learning is to be considered as blind imitation. It is superficial, not spiritual. Therefore the promotion of learning is one of the limbs of religion.

Fifth, religious bigotry, racial prejudice, political partisanship and national bias bring down the edifice of humanity. The reality of the divine religions is one, for reality is one and admits not plurality, and all the prophets are in the utmost unity. The prophets are the mediators of the sun: in every season they rise from a certain point. Therefore each has spoken of his successor, and that successor has confirmed the truth of his predecessor. “No distinction do we make between any of them.” [Quran 2:285]

Sixth, equality between individuals, and perfect fellowship. Justice should be so perfect that the rights of the human race are protected and assured and the rights of the public are equal. This is one of the essential requirements of life in society.

Seventh, the equalisation of the means of livelihood for all humanity, to the extent that all are freed from poverty. Every person should have enough necessities and opportunities to live at ease in a certain honour and position. Although the Emir may be glorious and be surrounded with prosperity, the poor man also should have some daily sustenance. He should not be left in a state of degradation, nor should he be denied the enjoyment of life due to extreme hunger.

Eighth, the universal peace. A supreme tribunal should be formed by all the governments and religious communities, in general elections, and any differences and disputes arising among the governments and peoples should be settled in that tribunal, so that they do not lead to war.

Ninth, religion is separated from politics. Religion does not enter into political matters. In fact, it is linked with the hearts, not with the world of bodies. The leaders of religion should devote themselves to teaching and training the souls and propagating good morals, and they should not enter into political matters.

Tenth, the education and training of women, their progress, and consideration and respect for them, since they are partners and co-equals of men in life and, with respect to their humanity, are on an equal footing.

Eleventh, seeking the bounties of the Holy Spirit, so that spiritual civilization can be established. Material civilization alone is not enough, and does not lead to human happiness. Material civilization is like the body, and spiritual civilization is like the spirit. The body does not live without the spirit. The Quran says, “Truly, We have created the human being in the best of moulds.” [95:4]

These are a selection from the teachings of Baha’u’llah. He demonstrated perseverance and bore trials and afflictions to establish and promulgate them. He was always a prisoner, enduring punishment, heavily burdened, but in the prison he laid the foundations for this sublime mansion. From the darkness of the prison he illumined the horizons with this radiant light. The supreme desire of the Bahais is that these teachings should be put in practice. They strive with heart and soul, willing to sacrifice themselves for this goal, so that heavenly light may illumine the human race.

I am exceedingly pleased to have been able to speak with you in this respected gathering. I hope very much that you will accept my sincere reflections, and breathe a prayer in your hearts that you may be aided to attain to the highest distinction of the human world.

There’s an almost identical text, again with the separation of church and state as the ninth principle, in Paris Talks (not a reliable source). The report in Paris Talks is so similar to what I have translated above that it might almost be derived from the same talk of Abdu’l-Baha, except that the sixth and seventh principles are reversed. In this report, the ninth principle reads:

Religion is concerned with things of the spirit, politics with things of the world. Religion has to work with the world of thought, whilst the field of politics lies with the world of external conditions.

It is the work of the clergy to educate the people, to instruct them, to give them good advice and teaching so that they may progress spiritually. With political questions they have nothing to do. (Paris Talks, 132, undated)

There’s another talk on the topic which I’ve translated from the Persian as an appendix in my book Church and State: it is particularly important since it also shows that the separation of church and state, in the Bahai teachings, does not mean that believers cannot participate in politics or that religion has no role in society (quite the contrary). Once again, the separation of church and state appears as the ninth principle. (There is a heavily edited version in Paris Talks, page 157, but I have translated it from the Persian notes.)

Words of Abdu’l-Baha on the evening of Saturday 26 Dhu’l-Qa`dah 1329 in the house of Monsieur Dreyfus, Paris (17 November 1911).

He is God.

In the world of existence, a human being should have the hope of reward and the fear of punishment, particularly those souls who serve in the government, and have the affairs of the state and the people in their grasp. If the officials of the government do not have such a hope of reward and fear of retribution, they will certainly not behave with justice.

Rewards and punishments are the two poles on which the tent of the world is raised. Thus government officials are held back from committing injustice by the fear of punishment and eager hope for reward.

Consider despotic governments in which there is neither fear of punishment nor hope for rewards. As a result, the affairs of such governments do not pivot upon justice and fairness.

Rewards and punishments are of two sorts. One is political rewards and punishments, and the other is divine rewards and punishments. It is certain that, if some souls are firmly persuaded of divine rewards and punishments, and they are under the constraints of political rewards and punishments as well, those persons are more perfect, for they will constrained and deterred from practising oppression. If both the fear of God and the fear of retribution are present, that is, if there is both spiritual and political deterrence, of course this is more perfect.

Some government officials, who both fear the chastisement of the state and dread divine torment, naturally observe justice to a greater extent. In particular, those who fear eternal punishment and have hope of everlasting reward: such souls make the greatest possible efforts in thinking how to implement justice, and they are averse to oppression.

For, for those who are firm believers, to commit tyranny is to be visited by divine punishment in the eternal world. Naturally, they will shun oppression and wrong-doing, especially as firm believers, if they dispense justice, will draw near to the threshold of grandeur, gain eternal life, enter into the Kingdom of God, and their faces will be illumined by the lights of divine grace and loving-kindness.

Thus, if government officials are religious, naturally that is better, for they are the manifestations of the fear of God.

My intent with these words is not that religion should have any business in politics. Religion has absolutely no jurisdiction or involvement in politics. For religion is related to spirits and the conscience while politics is related to the body.

Therefore the leaders of religions should not be involved in political matters, but should devote themselves to rectifying the morals of the people. They admonish and excite the desire and appetite for piety. They sustain the morals of the community, they impart spiritual understandings to the souls, and teach the [religious] sciences, but never get involved in political matters.

Baha’u’llah commands this. In the Gospels, it is written that you should give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. [Matthew 22:21]

The essence of the matter is this: in Iran the righteous Bahai government officials observe the utmost justice, because they fear the wrath of God and hope for the mercy of God. However there are others who do have no scruples at all. However capable they may be, they never cease their oppressive and negligent acts. This is why Iran is in such difficulties. …

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56 Responses to “Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London”

  1. J. Ray said

    Article: “Third, religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity.”

    J. Ray: Using the male gender ‘He’ to denote ‘God’ causes social injustice, disharmony, and separation. Thus the sexist words that are being used in this article already undermine the entire premise being put forward. This wrong needs be corrected in order to produce goodly fruit.

    God is not gendered and therefore gendered pronouns and ‘translations’ should not be used in relation to ‘God’; rather “God is God” or “Source is Source”. The problem becomes more acute when translated into English before inclusive language was created/applied within it.

    Here’s to influences, religious and otherwise, that brings humanity past duality into Wholeness.

    Justice

  2. Sen said

    Translations of Bahai texts often simply omit the opening invocation, but some information is lost – readers are not aware that Abdu’l-Baha did use these conventional opening words that are used throughout the Middle East. “God is Lord” would express the sentiment of “huvallah” perfectly, but it would give the impression that Abdu’l-Baha did something innovative, that his practice as a speaker was to avoid an Islamic-sounding opening, whereas the opposite is true.

  3. J. Ray said

    Sen you mention that ‘Abdu’l-baha’s invocation was often omitted and the readers were unaware that he did indeed conform to the Islamic standard invocations in his Writings. I wonder if the invocation was left off in translations for the purpose of converting Westerners without bringing attention to the Islamic practices. It is an interesting point.

    The Ninth Principle put forward in the article states: Ninth, religion is separated from politics. Religion does not enter into political matters. In fact, it is linked with the hearts, not with the world of bodies. The leaders of religion should devote themselves to teaching and training the souls and propagating good morals, and they should not enter into political matters.

    Regarding the Ninth Principle it seems like an oxymoron in that religion affects the hearts, the hearts inform and influence the minds of politicians, and therefore material political decision. As long as politicians hold religious affiliation, religion does indeed influence politics, whether a theocracy or not imo. For instance, a Muslim woman believing her religion says the law is to cover herself in public, would have a difficult time not bringing that belief into her political votes in the public sector.

    Justice

  4. Sen said

    In this case, it was a speech rather than writing, and I decided to include it for the sake of historical veracity. Most of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks that we have in English and French are taken from notes of what the interpreter said. If the interpreter didn’t translate the opening invocation, the English editors would simply not know about it.

    The ninth principle says that “leaders of religion” should “not enter into political matters.” But in the talk at the Dreyfus house on 17 November 1911, Abdu’l-Baha says that government officials should be religious: he praises Persian Bahais who held high office. So the principle is not to be apolitical, it is what we know as the separation of church and state, a divide between the institutions, not a ban on participation in public life.

    The same two points are made in the Writings of Shoghi Effendi, who on the one hand says,

    “The Baha’is will be called upon to assume the reins of government when they will come to constitute the majority of the population in a given country, and even then their participation in political affairs is bound to be limited in scope unless they obtain a similar majority in some other countries as well.” (on behalf, 19 November 1939)

    and on the other hand:

    Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 66)

    It’s the same teaching: Bahais, and the faithful of all religions, should participate in public life including politics, but religious leaders generally and the Bahai Administration in particular should not do so, although, in The Sermon on the Art of Governance, Abdu’l-Baha speaks of them advising government when asked:

    These souls are the fountainhead of the interpretation of God’s commandments, not of implementation. That is, when the government requests an explanation concerning the requirements of the Law of God and the realities of the divine ordinances, in principle or in a specific case, they must explain what they have deduced from the commands of God and what is in accordance with the law of God.

    Those two terms, “the interpretation of God’s commandments” and “implementation” are the same ones which Abdu’l-Baha uses in the Will and Testament, referring specifically to the House of Justice rather than to religious leaders in general. See “Executive and Legislative” on this blog.

  5. Anon said

    “All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice…” Baha’u’llah

    It is clear from this quote of Baha’u’llah that the House of Justice does enter into political matters.

    There are writings of the Guardian that says the Universal House of Justice needs to reveal the implications of the new world order. Clearly this involves the House entering into political matters in the future.

  6. Sen said

    The quote “All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice…” is a bad translation (the original text simply does not have a word that means “state”), and is inconsistent with the Bahai teachings. I’ve discussed this on this blog in “Matters of State.” Briefly, Ali Kuli Khan translates this as “Administrative affairs are all in charge of the House of Justice, and devotional acts must be observed according as they are revealed in the Book.” and Shoghi Effendi translates a similar phrase, in the Tablet of Wisdom, as “edifice of wise administration.” Shoghi Effendi and Ali Kuli Khan are better translators, because they have the broad grasp of the Bahai teachings which is necessary to produce a translation consistent with Baha’u’llah’s thinking as a whole. It would never have occurred to Baha’u’llah to place worldly affairs in the hands of religious authorities (he very frequently endorses the authority of worldly governments), and so far as we know, he also did not envision a House of Justice at the national level, only at the local and international levels. It is administration (at any level), not matters of state (national politics), which are referred to the Houses of Justice (at all levels). Administration of what? Of the Bahai community of course, which must therefore function alongside local government, national government and international government, each (religion and politics) in its own sphere, as Baha’u’llah explains n the Lawh-e Dunya:

    According to the fundamental laws which We have formerly revealed in the Kitab-e Aqdas and other Tablets, all affairs are committed to the care of just kings and presidents and of the Trustees of the House of Justice.

  7. Sen said

    I think your second reference was to these words of the Guardian:

    …may we also clear our minds of any lingering trace of unhappy misunderstandings that might obscure our clear conception of the exact purpose and methods of this new world order, so challenging and complex, yet so consummate and wise. We are called upon by our beloved Master in His Will and Testament not only to adopt it unreservedly, but to unveil its merit to all the world. To attempt to estimate its full value, and grasp its exact significance after so short a time since its inception would be premature and presumptuous on our part. We must trust to time, and the guidance of God’s Universal House of Justice, to obtain a clearer and fuller understanding of its provisions and implications. (Baha’i Administration, p. 62)

    This does not say that the House of Justice will enter into political matters. God forbid. They are called on to guide later generations of Bahais to understand what the world order implies (not of course giving authoritative interpretations, but teaching in the same way as time and experience teach us). Abdu’l-Baha changed the name of the House of Justice precisely to combat the idea that the Bahai institutions would eventually become judicial or political bodies. He wrote:

    The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.

    Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia. ***
    (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 5)

  8. Anon said

    How do you explain this quote from the Will of Abdul-Baha:

    “This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them.”

    Enacting laws are political matters.

    The quote from Lawh-e-Dunya in post 6 shows that the House of Justice does enter into political matters along with kings and presidents.

  9. Sen said

    To understand this, (“This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them.”) or any other Bahai teaching, we need to gather all of the material from the Writings, not just seize on one quote and what we think it means. I’ve answered your question in another posting on this blog “Executive and Legislative,” by looking for other places in Abdu’l-Baha’s writings where he discusses the same two terms, the legislative, tashrii` (from the word shari`ah, the religious law not state law), and the the executive power, the tanfiidh, which is government in all senses (monarch, legislature, executive, judiciary, police, civil service etc etc). He discusses these two terms in several places, calling them the do qovveh, two forces, in society. In all the places I have found where Abdu’l-Baha uses these terms, he is speaking of the complementary roles of the religious order and the political order in society, NOT about the relationship between legislative, executive and judiciary. His framework is the philosophy/theology of society, using Islamic terms, and if we read him through modern western spectacles, imposing Montesquieu’s separation of powers onto the text, we get quite the wrong impression.

    When read in the light of Abdu’l-Baha’s other writings on this subject, it becomes clear that the points he is making in the Will and Testament is that the House of Justice is NOT the executive power in society, its role in society is to promulgate the religious law, and that the government and the House of Justice should be in harmony.

    In the Sermon on the Art of Governance, Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    … the religious law is like the spirit of life,
    the government is the locus of the force of deliverance.
    The religious law is the shining sun,
    and government is the clouds of April.
    These two bright stars are like twin lights in the heavens of the contingent world,
    they have cast their rays upon the people of the world.
    … If you refer to history, you would find countless examples of this [negative] sort, all based on the involvement of religious leaders in political matters. These souls are the fountainhead of the interpretation of God’s commandments (tashrii`), not of implementation (tanfiidh). That is, when the government requests an explanation concerning the requirements of the Law of God and the realities of the divine ordinances … they must explain what has been deduced of the commands of God, and what is in accordance with the law of God. Apart from this, what awareness do they have of questions of leadership and social development, the administration and control of weighty matters, the welfare and prosperity of the kingdom, the improvement of procedures and codes of law, or foreign affairs and domestic policy?

    In another place, Abdu’l-Baha describes these two forces as two calls:

    O ye concourse of the Kingdom of Abha! Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised … The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.
    (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 282)

    These passages tell us what a tashrii`-type legislature does in society: it explains “what has been deduced of the commands of God, and what is in accordance with the law of God” and it does not deal with “the improvement of procedures and codes of law, or foreign affairs and domestic policy”, which is precisely what a national parliament does deal with.

    In light of this, we can see that Shoghi Effendi is giving an essential Bahai teaching, when he writes in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, page 66, that:

    “Theirs is not the purpose, . . . to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.”

    To allow the machinery of the Administrative Order to replace worldly government would be worse than violating a national constitution, worse because it would be a violation of essential teachings. A letter written on his behalf also says quite explicitly that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i community…”

    In light of all this, to read the passage you found in the Will and Testament as advocating the House of Justice entering into government, would be quite perverse. We must look for the whole, not seize on one quote, and we must try to avoid imposing western assumptions on the Bahai Writings, which stem from an Islamic background and use Islamic vocabulary.

    The quote from the Lawh-e Dunya does not say that political affairs are in the hands of the House of Justice. It says:

    According to the fundamental laws which We have formerly revealed in the Kitab-e Aqdas and other Tablets, all affairs are committed to the care of just kings and presidents and of the Trustees of the House of Justice.

    What kind of affairs are committed to the kings and presidents, and what kind are committed to the House of Justice? We can answer this by turning to the other Writings, and the interpretations of the Guardian, to see what duties are given to which institution. Simply imposing a prejudgement on the text is not good enough.

  10. J. Ray said

    In spite of the harmonious separation of the Universal House of Justice and the government as suggested above, the Universal House of Justice does see a time in the future when the secular governmental Supreme Tribunal merges into the Universal House of Justice. I would suggest at this time or point the Universal House of Justice foresees religious laws and secular government working together as one. Of course this suggestion is based on the functions The Supreme Tribunal is vested with in the over-all scheme of world affairs at the time.

    Justice

  11. Sen said

    I can’t speak about what the UHJ foresees, if indeed it is even in the business of foreseeing the future. However a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi says:

    The Universal Court of Arbitration and the International Tribunal are the same. When the Baha’i State will be established they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice.
    (17 June 1933, on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

    The problem is only the words ‘merged in’ – almost any other virtual synonym such as ‘be integrated with’ would be consistent with the Writings, but ‘merge in’ is not, if we understand that as an institutional merger. If it meant that the Tribunal would become redundant and the Universal House of Justice would take over its functions, this would leave the legislature and executive of the world government operating, putting the Universal House of Justice (described in the Will and Testament as a legislature) in the subordinate position of a judiciary, delivering judgements according to laws made by the world legislature.

    However Shoghi Effendi includes the supreme tribunal among the machinery of world government which is to be established “once for all” (WOB 202), and the tribunal has a direct charter in the writings of Abdu’l-Baha (the Will and Testament, the Tablet to the Hague, and others).

    The same objection applies to the idea one writer has proposed, that the Tribunal should eventually replace the Universal House of Justice. There is no-one, including the Universal House of Justice, with the authority to make such a change in the system designed by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. Great as the powers of the Universal House of Justice are, they do not extend to abolishing itself, because the Universal House of Justice’s own existence is explicit in the Aqdas. Neither can the world legislature, or kings and kingship, be abolished: they are institutions of the Aqdas.

    Nor is a full institutional merger possible. In the first place, the election method for the Tribunal is set out by Abdu’l-Baha and therefore cannot be changed by the Universal House of Justice:

    - The Tablet to the Hague provides for national assemblies (parliaments) to elect two or two or three electoral delegates to elect the tribunal, whereas Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi say that the International House of Justice is to be elected directly by the “Secondary House of Justice (i.e., National Spiritual Assemblies) (Bahai Administration 84)

    - The Tablet to the Hague limits membership of the electoral college for the Tribunal to “persons who are … well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments”

    - The Tablet to the Hague provides for proportional national representation according to population. While National Spiritual Assemblies of large countries could have more than 9 members, Abdu’l-Baha specifies that the electoral college for the Tribunal consists of only two or three delegates per country.

    - The delegates for the election of the tribunal are confirmed by various other bodies who have no right to confirm the election of National Spiritual Assembly members.

    - The Supreme Tribunal is to be elected out of this electoral college (remembering they are all experts in international law) whereas the members of the Universal House of Justice are not necessarily chosen from among the delegates at the international convention: every adult (male?) Baha’i is eligible.

    Since the electoral methods are laid down in scripture, and the methods are so different that the electoral college for the Tribunal and the International Convention can never be the same, the institutions themselves cannot merge unless the two electoral bodies were miraculously to choose the same people, and keep choosing the same people.

    In the second place, the tribunal is clearly given the task of interpreting and applying international law, which is to be made by the international legislature (another body that cannot be united with the Universal House of Justice, since its own electoral methods are again different). The idea of the Universal House of Justice applying laws created by a human government is repugnant, since it would make the Universal House of Justice subordinate.

    In the third place, a merger would be contrary to the principle of the separation of the religious and worldly powers, which as we have seen as one of the core Bahai teachings.

    While a merger between the institutions is neither possible nor desirable, Shoghi Effendi says that the institutions of the world government, including the Tribunal, are to be sustained by “universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation” and since the Baha’i state is to function “in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy, the Mother-Book of the Baha’i Revelation” (Messages to the Baha’i World 155; see also (Advent of Divine Justice 15) it must be assumed that, having given its allegiance to the ‘common Revelation’, the world government would also be committed to function in accordance with the Aqdas. And who is to set forth and supplement the laws of the Aqdas for the world government except the Universal House of Justice?

    The relationship between the Universal House of Justice and world governments is comparable to the relationship between Baha’u’llah and the kings: he did not tell the kings to give up their thrones, but he did set before them a very high standard of justice and integrity. When the institutions of the world government indeed make a formal commitment to function in conformity with the laws and principles of Baha’u’llah, the Universal House of Justice will clearly acquire an integral and institutionalized role in world governance — but it cannot become something it is not.

    So what to make of the words “merge in”? We know that Shoghi Effendi did not generally dictate the letters written on his behalf, and he said that if he had something important to convey he did so in his general letters to the Baha’i world. One of his secretaries warns

    Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages. (Unfolding Destiny 260)

    So we should not hang too much on the particular phrase “merged in” in a letter that is not only written by a secretary, but is addressed to an individual. If the apparent meaning is in conflict with the Baha’i principles in general and with Shoghi Effendi’s own words, there is good justification for reading the words in a less usual, but more consistent, manner. (See for example the secretary’s letter discussed at the end of ‘Words of Grace‘ on this blog).

    There are other less crucial problems in understanding this letter. The secretary says “When the Baha’i State will be established they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice.” Shoghi Effendi uses ‘Baha’i State’ (ADJ 15; GPB 364; MBW 155) to refer to a government at the national level. But the secretary seems to be using Bahai state in some other sense, perhaps meaning the commonwealth of nations, or Baha’u’llah’s World Order, or something else we cannot guess at. In the first sentence, the secretary says that “the Universal Court of Arbitration and the International Tribunal are the same” – which is correct, they are simply different translations of the same term. But in the next sentence they are to be merged. How can two things which are the same thing, merge? Presumably the meaning was either, it (the Tribunal) will be merged with the Universal House of Justice, or they (the Bahai state and the international tribunal) will be merged with the Universal House of Justice. But what the letter says is that they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice – and God knows what that means. Fortunately, we have plenty of other writings, from the pens of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi themselves, to tell us what they meant by the terms they used, and how they understood the various relationships in the whole system.

  12. J. Ray said

    Sen: “Since the electoral methods are laid down in scripture, and the methods are so different that the electoral college for the Tribunal and the International Convention can never be the same, the institutions themselves cannot merge unless the two electoral bodies were miraculously to choose the same people, and keep choosing the same people.”

    Justice: Perhaps the Baha’is of today are so close to ‘the changes’ in the Faith they fail to see them: For instance, today, most of the members of the UHJ come from an appointed body (International Teaching Institute) rather than through a completely uninfluenced electoral process.

    The question of the merging of the two Institutions (Universal House of Justice and the Supreme Tribunal) arises because in the Writings the word ‘infallible’ is applied to both and saying all must obey their command. Obviously, when they are separate entities, they may have rulings that differently affect the world’s people and would therefore become impossible to obey both at the same time.

    Perhaps the UHJ should be asked in this day what the merge will actually entail so Baha’is can get a clearer picture of which they speak, reducing speculations. Have you written to them about this subject in recent times? If so please share there response here.

    Justice

  13. Sen said

    The question of the merging of the two Institutions (Universal House of Justice and the Supreme Tribunal) arises because in the Writings the word ‘infallible’ is applied to both and saying all must obey their command.

    I do not know of any statement that the Supreme Tribunal is infallible. That’s one of many reasons why the two institutions cannot merge. The Supreme or International Tribunal is a purely secular body, “an aspect of a world Superstate,” whose “precursor” is the League of Nations (God Passes By, p. 305), and it is a judicial body not a legislature. It is the highest court of appeal in disputes between nations, but every hierarchical system must have its highest member – that doesn’t mean that the highest members of all the different systems are or should be the same body. That would turn society into a monolith instead of an organic network of inter-relating organs.

    There’s a letter from the UHJ in Ocean, entitled “extracts on international tribunal,” but I don’t think it leaves us any the wiser. The problem is not that the Writings are unclear about the Tribunal, but that there is one letter by a secretary which makes no sense, and is not compatible with the Writings, so the puzzle is not “what is the international tribunal” but rather “what was the secretary thinking of?” In ‘Defending Shoghi Effendi‘ on this blog, I’ve suggested one answer to that visually: perhaps the secretary was thinking not of becoming one but rather of becoming aligned
     
     
     
    ++++

    There’s a letter from the Research Department that says

    While the Research Department has not been able to find any statements in the Baha’i Writings which explicate how the Supreme Tribunal will “merge” with the Universal House of Justice or which specify how these institutions will relate to each other, the following extract from a letter dated 31 May 1988 from the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly pertains to the membership of these bodies:

    With regard to the status of women, the important point for Baha’is to remember is that in face of the categorical pronouncements in Baha’i Scripture establishing the equality of men and women, the ineligibility of women for membership of the Universal House of Justice does not constitute evidence of the superiority of men over women. It must also be borne in mind that women are not excluded from any other international institution of the Faith. They are found among the ranks of the Hands of the Cause. They serve as members of the International Teaching Centre and as Continental Counsellors. And, there is nothing in the Text to preclude the participation of women in such future international bodies as the Supreme Tribunal.
    (The Universal House of Justice, 1996 Jun 27, Monogamy, Equality of Sexes)

    My guess is that – decoded – this means, we found nothing to support what is said in the secretary’s letter, and the different memberships (and electoral systems) of the two institutions make an institutional merger impossible.

  14. J. Ray said

    Let us not become confused here, but rather apply a broad vision to the issue the union of the UHJ and the Supreme Tribunal, as Baha’u’llah makes the claim of being the architect of a New World Order that knits the social, political, and religious life of all humankind together as one unity (note 1).This is known in Baha’i terminology as Divine Politics (note 2); politics designed to produce Heaven on Earth (note 3). As such, all affairs of the Global Community become interactive in Baha’u’llah’s New World Order.

    One such mechanism is the Supreme Tribunal: “When the Supreme Tribunal gives a ruling on any international question, either unanimously or by majority-rule, there will no longer be any pretext for the plaintiff or ground of objection for the defendant. In case any of the governments or nations, in the execution of the irrefutable decision of the Supreme Tribunal, be negligent or dilatory, the rest of the nations will rise up against it, because all the governments and nations of the world are the supporters of this Supreme Tribunal.”

    Another mechanism of the New World Order as designed by Baha’u’llah is the infallible Universal House of Justice, which all Baha’is must obey.

    Both of these Institutions are part of Baha’u’llah’s New World Order. Regardless of functions there is an overlapping implied. Now because it is impossible for an individual or nation to obey both institutions when they hold different rulings on an issue, it follows that these two Divine institutions will need to be working together on some level.

    I believe this is why the UHJ when asked about this question replies that the two Institutions will merge in the future.

    Notes:
    1. The phrase “New World Order” was first used in the sacred texts of the Bahai Faith by its founder, Baha’u’llah, in the late 19th century. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, considered the most holy of the Bahá’í Faith’s many texts, Bahá’u’lláh states: “The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System – the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” In another text Baha’u’llah writes: “Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” Gleanings, pp 6-7

    2. “My hope is that in this enlightened century the Divine Light of love will shed its radiance over the whole world, seeking out the responsive heart’s intelligence of every human being; that the light of the Sun of Truth will lead politicians to shake off all the claims of prejudice and superstition, and with freed minds to follow the Policy of God:

    for Divine Politics are mighty, man’s politics are feeble! God has created all the world, and bestows His Divine Bounty upon every creature. Are we not the servants of God? Shall we neglect to follow our Master’s Example, and ignore His Commands? I pray that the Kingdom shall come on Earth, and that all darkness shall be driven away by the effulgence of the Heavenly Sun.” Abdu’l-baha, Paris Talks, pp. 150 -151

    3a. “The world will become the mirror of the Heavenly Kingdom; humanity will be the Throne of Divinity. All nations will become one; all religions will be unified; all individual men will become of one family and of one kindred. All the regions of the earth will become one; the superstitions caused by races, countries, individuals, languages and politics will disappear; and all men will attain to life eternal, under the shadow of the Lord of Hosts.” Some Answered Questions, by Abdu’l-baha, pp. 39 -40

    b. “I wish this blessing to appear and become manifest in the faces and characteristics of the believers, so that they, too, may become a new people, and having found new life and been baptized with fire and spirit, may make the world a new world, to the end that the old earth may disappear and the new earth appear; old ideas depart and new thoughts come; old garments be cast aside and new garments put on; ancient politics whose foundation is war be discarded and modern politics founded on peace raise the standard of victory; the new star shine and gleam and the new sun illumine and radiate; new flowers bloom; the new spring become known; the new breeze blow; the new bounty descend; the new tree give forth new fruit; the new voice become raised and this new sound reach the ears, that the new will follow the new, and all the old furnishings and adornments be cast aside and new decorations put in their places.” Tablets of Abdu’l-baha, pp. 38-40

    Justice

  15. Sen said

    Both of these Institutions are part of Baha’u’llah’s New World Order. Regardless of functions there is an overlapping implied. Now because it is impossible for an individual or nation to obey both institutions when they hold different rulings on an issue, it follows that these two Divine institutions will need to be working together on some level.

    I believe this is why the UHJ when asked about this question replies that the two Institutions will merge in the future.

    So far as I know, the UHJ has not said that these two institutions will merge in the future. I think the letter of the Research Department I quoted is the UHJ’s way of telling us that they cannot actually merge, since the specifications for their memberships are scriptural, and different.

    Certainly the two institutions will need to work together, like “milk and honey” as Abdu’l-Baha says in the Sermon on the Art of Governance. However the UHJ does not and cannot issue instructions to governments, so the need for coordination is less than you suppose. Similarly, none of the functions allocated to the world government in the Bahai writings would involve the world legislature, executive or judiciary issuing instructions to individuals, except in so far as those individuals happen to be heads of state and the like. The world governments’ functions all involve coordinating and adjudicating between states, and ensuring that those states protect the rights of individuals.

  16. J. Ray said

    A Baha’i teaching for Baha’is is that ‘they must obey the laws of the land in which they are living’. Baha’u’llah’s Supreme Tribunal makes decision for all people and Nations:

    Since Baha’is, no matter in which Nation they live, defer to the Law of the Land they would be obliged to follow the rulings given to their Nations by the Supreme Tribunal, even if those rulings were in contradiction to the dictates of the Universal House of Justice. With this understanding, then, there is no need for the merging of the Supreme Tribunal into The Universal House of Justice, even though Baha’i Administration once predicted it to be so for some time in the future.

    The World Order of Baha’u’llah, then has what seems like a flawed premise, in that the secular Supreme Tribunal, can trump The Universal House of Justice when differences arise – for this would be the worldly secular decisions ruling over the religious ones. There is no guarantee that the two Institutions will work like ‘milk and honey’ although that of course is the preferred outcome.

    Justice

  17. Sen said

    Hi Justice

    What you say is correct, but I do not see it as a flaw. Quite the contrary. The separation of church and state is not only a Bahai teaching, experience world-wide has shown that it is an integral part of democracy and essential to any modern society. The explicit incorporation of this principle in Bahai teachings is one of the things that suits the Faith to the modern and postmodern world.

    That separation entails a separation of institutional spheres of responsibility, just as the spheres of the Guardianship and the House of Justice are distinct within the Bahai Administrative Order, and therefore it entails the possibility that the institutions will pull in different directions. ‘He cannot override‘ on this blog deals with the possibility of tensions within the Bahai Administrative Order. Such tensions would only be a problem if, in a given situation, there was no clarity about who had the final word on what, leading to the possibility of a structural rupture.

    In the case of the World government, Shoghi Effendi envisions that “A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system.” Within the Bahai administrative order, “The National Assembly [is] the sole interpreter of its Declaration of Trust and by-laws, [and] directly and morally responsible if it allows any body or institution within its jurisdiction to abuse its privileges or to decline in the exercise of its rights and prerogatives.” (Shoghi Effendi, 11 June 1934). By analogy, the Universal House of Justice has the same final say, within its sphere.

    Where governments have in the past enacted laws requiring their Bahai citizens to act contrary to Bahai teachings, for example by disbanding the Bahai administration or requiring all citizens to join a political party, the Bahais have complied. We only have a duty of disobedience to the state where the state requires something fundamentally contrary to conscience and outside the proper sphere of action of government, for example by requiring participation in antisemitic activities, or requiring conversion to the state religion. The same principle must govern the relationship between the UHJ and the institutions of world government. Obedience to Bahai teachings itself requires obedience to the supreme tribunal: “When the laws of the Most Holy Book are enforced, contentions and disputes will find a final sentence of absolute justice before a general tribunal of the nations and kingdoms, and the difficulties that appear will be solved.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 62)

  18. J. Ray said

    “When the laws of the Most Holy Book are enforced, contentions and disputes will find a final sentence of absolute justice before a general tribunal of the nations and kingdoms, and the difficulties that appear will be solved.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 62)

    In the above quote there is no indication whether the envisioned ‘general tribunal’ and the Supreme Tribunal are the same Institution, secular, or within Baha’i Administration only.

    What we do know, however, is that when/if the Laws of the Aqdas are enacted women will be further disadvantaged financially (1); thus leaving them less empowered in the Baha’i Community and therefore in the secular society.

    This could be an instance where Supreme Tribunal rulings ‘could’ positively override Baha’i rulings, especially if the Supreme Tribunal upholds ‘full’ equality of women and men in the society as the Baha’i “Promise of World Peace” document put out by the UHJ outlayed to the Nations and Governments of the world in the 1980′s.

    I for one, am not happy to contemplate women being brought back to the Dark Ages – and that ‘negligible’ clause, now in the Aqdas, pp. 1-11, does affect women’s financial equality in society as does banning them from being part of the decision making at the highest level in the Baha’i Commonwealth which affects their attitudes in the secular world as well.

    Note:
    (1) “Equality of men and women, except in some negligible instances, has been fully and categorically announced.”
    From a Tablet of Abdu’l-baha http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/KA/ka-2.html

    Justice

  19. Sen said

    In the above quote there is no indication whether the envisioned ‘general tribunal’ and the Supreme Tribunal are the same Institution, secular, or within Baha’i Administration only.

    That is only due to the translation. The Persian text refers to the mahkamah-ye umumiyyah ( محکمه عموميّه ), which is the term also used in the Will and Testament, which Shoghi Effendi translates, “Should differences arise, they shall be amicably and conclusively settled by the Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.” You will recall that in the Will and Testament, Abdu’l-Baha also speaks of the House of Justice (Bayt-e `adl-e umumi) which is to be elected by the Bahais alone. So there’s no possible ambiguity: the General Tribunal is the Supreme Tribunal is the International Tribunal, in Abdu’l-Baha’s terminology, while the Universal House of Justice is something quite different, and he expected that “When the laws of the Most Holy Book are enforced” — that is, in a Bahai state, which is defined by Shoghi Effendi as one functioning according to those laws — it would be the Supreme Tribunal and not the Universal House of Justice that would solve inter-national (secular) “contentions and disputes.”

    What we do know, however, is that when/if the Laws of the Aqdas are enacted women will be further disadvantaged financially (1); thus leaving them less empowered in the Baha’i Community and therefore in the secular society.

    I think this is a misunderstanding. See Some Considerations Relating to the Inheritance Laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas on the Bahai-library site. Briefly, when a man dies, male heirs of one class collectively (not individuallY) have a slight priority over female heirs of the same class, with regard to general property. For example, brothers collectively have a larger share than sisters collectively. But if there is one sister and three brothers, the sister’s share will work out at almost three times what each of the brothers get. However when a woman dies, the female heirs in each class, collectively, have a slight priority over the male heirs. In the case of personal effects, sons inherit from fathers, daughters from their mothers, if there are both sons and daughters. With respect to the family home, the eldest son inherits the father’s share (normally 50%) of ownership, the eldest daughter inherits the mother’s share. There are some ifs and buts, but that’s the broad picture: there’s a large element of chance, because individual outcomes depend on the number of heirs in each class, and the system offers neither patrilineal nor matrilineal inheritance, but rather symmetrical gendered equality, providing (which is a big ‘if’) the husbands and wives in a society are, as a rule, economic equals in the first place.

  20. J. Ray said

    In the cases of intestacy when the Father dies, the son inherits the family home, being the Baha’i Faith follows male primogeniture laws, and he is encouraged to care for his Mother. Also the monies for their children and for their education goes to a Trustee rather than the Mother of the children. A Tablet of Abdu’l-baha says he hopes all Baha’is will make their Wills out along these lines, although it is their choice.

    If the husband doesn’t feel kindly towards his wife he may not make his Will in her favor, or he may have remarried causing changes to his Will. It seems like it doesn’t pay for women to put their monies into a family home if they don’t inherit it when the husband passes. Also, who is to say that a son will be able to care for his Mother, wife, and children. If he sells the house then where does she go? This is why I said it ‘may be’ preferable that the secular rulings apply.

    In the early beginnings of the USA, Americans worked hard to ensure women would inherit equally, which indeed they do not in the Baha’i Community.
    Negligible inequalities are much like being a little pregnant – which leads to much bigger realities.

    Justice

    With the Power of Equality injustice becomes no more (Tahirih).
    Let us strive to wipe out injustice completely throughout.

  21. Sen said

    In the cases of intestacy when the Father dies, the son inherits the family home, being the Baha’i Faith follows male primogeniture laws …

    Only if the father is the sole owner of the home. A Bahai couple might structure things that way, but it would seem more probable and natural (and in many countries decreed by national laws), that husband and wife own the property equally. Therefore only the father’s half of the ownership can pass to the son, and when the mother dies, her half to the eldest daughter.

    Also the monies for their children and for their education goes to a Trustee rather than the Mother of the children.

    I guess you are referring to this:

    Fourth: Everyone, whether man or woman, should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earneth through trade, agriculture or other occupation, for the training and education of children, to be spent for this purpose with the knowledge of the Trustees of the House of Justice.
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 89)

    This is a funding system for Bahai-funded community education, a religious tax (note that it is not only parents who would pay it). If the husband paid it to the wife, and wife paid it to the husband, the system would be a bit futile, would it not? Naturally they pay it to the body providing the education, subject to the approval of the local or national Assembly.

    A Tablet of Abdu’l-Baha says he hopes all Baha’is will make their Wills out along these lines, although it is their choice.

    I haven’t seen that tablet, but I did see one in Persian in which he praised an “assembly” (which might not be an elected body, depending on the date of this tablet) for being the first to apply the Bahai inheritance law, and saying that he hoped more would do so in the future. He did not regard the inheritance law only as a fall-back where Bahais fail to write a Will, or as a concession to Islamic social norms that would become redundant in the future, but as something desirable and praiseworthy in itself. But the discussion in the Bahai community has been bedeviled by the assumption that writing a Will and applying the Aqdas law are alternatives in any given case — an assumption that it would not even have occurred to Abdu’l-Baha to refute, because in his environment and throughout the Islamic world, inheritance via Will and inheritance via a system of decreed portions of the estate function side by side in each individual case. They are complementary and, generally speaking, should both be done.

    Writing a Will is everywhere regarded as wise and praiseworthy. In Islamic law it can include the division of up to one third of the estate, while the remainder is allocated according to fixed proportions based on religious law. The difference in Bahai law is simply that the one third limit is removed, so when writing your Will you can allocate up to 100% of your estate according to need, or deserts, or for whatever reason you please. There is nothing requiring you to allocate 100%. You could for example make specific bequests for specific needs, including non-Bahai relatives and dependents and the needy, and then say that the rest is to be allocated according to the Aqdas. Or you could say, let $1252 first be distributed in my name according to the laws of the Aqdas, and the rest according to the laws of the state.

  22. J. Ray said

    Also the monies for their children and for their education goes to a Trustee rather than the Mother of the children.

    I guess you are referring to this:

    Fourth: Everyone, whether man or woman, should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earneth through trade, agriculture or other occupation, for the training and education of children, to be spent for this purpose with the knowledge of the Trustees of the House of Justice.
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 89)

    No, I am referring to cases of intestacy here.

    “The Research Department knows of no reason why the widow should be excluded from consideration as the “reliable individual” into whose care the children’s “share of the inheritance must be entrusted”.Note46, page 187

    So we see here that it isn’t the Mother/Widow who automatically becomes the Trustee, and thus funds may be held up in administration injuring the short term welfare of the children.

    This system is based on ‘good intent’. When ‘good intent’ is not the primary concern there are no real check and balances to protect rights of members and individuals. Think of all the people who have been struck from the rolls of the Baha’i Faith without any ‘real’ recourse, for example. There are a lot of holes for women to fall through in the outlined inheritance laws as they now stand. I’m especially concerned in that in the 1980′s “full” equality was being preached, and then with the release of the Aqdas, we discover there a areas of inequality which Abdu’l-baha terms as ‘negligible’. So I would not advise anyone to go forward with this line of inheritance without assurances (written contracts/laws) of well-being rather than ‘assuming’ all is well when it is so subject to change and inclusions.

    Justice

  23. Sen said

    The text says,

    If the deceased should leave children who are under age, their share of the inheritance must be entrusted to a reliable individual, or to a company, that it may be invested on their behalf in trade and business until they come of age. The trustee should be assigned a due share of the profit that hath accrued to it from being thus employed.
    (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 28)

    I gather your objection now is not that it disadvantages women, but that it is too flexible, because it doesn’t specify that the trustee should be the surviving parent, if any. I like it just the way it is – it allows a surviving parent to be the trustee, but does not assume that that will always be the best solution. Like the rest of the inheritance law, it allows us more freedom and responsibility than we have been used to.

  24. J. Ray said

    The text says,

    I gather your objection now is not that it disadvantages women, but that it is too flexible, because it doesn’t specify that the trustee should be the surviving parent, if any. I like it just the way it is – it allows a surviving parent to be the trustee, but does not assume that that will always be the best solution. Like the rest of the inheritance law, it allows us more freedom and responsibility than we have been used to.

    Justice: Whether it be the Mother or the Father that dies the children’s monies are up for grabs to some extent, for who is to say who the Trustee should be when no Will is specified?

    Also, for instance, the Mother dies and the Father is not apprised of the contents of the Mother’s last Will leaving the children’s share of the inheritance to the Local Assembly (Trustee) for investment. This then gives payment to the Assembly instead of accruing in the funds for the children as it may have been under the Father’s care. Same goes for the Mother. So often this extra dividend would help the family unit survive with some dignity, especially when it is a Mother caring for children.

    The Trustee isn’t going to give the interest to the family for their well being rather they will be keeping it for payment of handling the funds. It seems preferable for the family unit to be self sufficient rather than being in need of assistance form elsewhere.

    As such the surviving parent has no say in the matter. This can be of a concern. Often Institutions and Companies use monies for employee’s uses and the monies are lost, especially when the Companies go bust. In today’s world Insurance Companies have devastated whole families in their handling of people’s monies.

    Baha’u’llah’s injunction seems to create paying employment. thus if the matter was to come before the Assembly the Assembly would not be too happy to assign the Trusteeship to the surviving parent even if it were in the children’s best interest because financially it is more profitable for the Assembly to keep control.

    You might respond that it is the Assembly’s responsibility to care for the orphaned and poor with the funds. I personally have seen this money earmarked as such become ‘re-appropriated’ for other uses, already in this early stage of development.

    So yes, these inheritance laws need careful re-evaluation, added clauses and amendments before they can be applied in a way that protects the financial well-being of the community members.

    If the Parents set up a joint fund for the children’s education and one parent dies, what happens to that money, under the inheritance laws, even if they left a will?

    Also, in a family home, how is each investment of the Mother and the Father calculated so that the son only receives his Father’s share upon his death, as you mentioned earlier? In this case it does seem that the family home will have to be sold – which can really upset the lives of the Mother and children. What if the eldest son is too young to do anything with his share of the home – does it then go to the Assembly?

    A changing paradigm deserves careful consideration, and it behooves women to not allow themselves to become financially disadvantaged under that paradigm so they can participate equally to create a balanced and just civilization for women and men alike. It is better to think about these things before supporting something that sounds good when in practice it may not be so good.

    Does anything in the Writings talk about the Wars of Terrorism now taking place, and is the Eleven Essentials (not yet in place) a means of naming the causes in your opinion? “God is God’ rather than “He is God”, is a good start, so the Spirit of the Female can better participate to bring Balance along with her counterpart.

    Justice

  25. Sen said

    Whether it be the Mother or the Father that dies the children’s monies are up for grabs to some extent, for who is to say who the Trustee should be when no Will is specified?

    This is a general problem when people do not write wills. Civil law has priority over religious law, so it is usually a civil court that decides, but this depends on the laws of the country. In the absence of any civil law, the local spiritual assembly would have to decide, and its decision could be appealed to the National Spiritual Assembly.

    Also, for instance, the Mother dies and the Father is not apprised of the contents of the Mother’s last Will leaving the children’s share of the inheritance to the Local Assembly (Trustee) for investment. This then gives payment to the Assembly instead of accruing in the funds for the children as it may have been under the Father’s care. Same goes for the Mother. So often this extra dividend would help the family unit survive with some dignity, especially when it is a Mother caring for children.

    Whether the surviving partner knows the terms of the deceased’s Will is irrelevant: we all have the right to dispose of our property in our Wills. Your argument appears to be that if the surviving partner is the trustee, he or she would be allowed to use the money for the family unit (as he or she sees it) rather than its designated purpose. This is not so: it would break civil law, as well as Bahai law, and would be punishable. Estates being administered in trust must be administered according to the terms and purposes of the Will.

    The Trustee isn’t going to give the interest to the family for their well being rather they will be keeping it for payment of handling the funds.

    Untrustworthy trustees can be prosecuted. There are good reasons why laws around the world (also in Islamic countries) do not stipulate that such a trustee should be a family member. Experience has shown that an external party is often better. Families are complicated, and throwing the status of “trustee” into the family mix can be quite destructive. But it is up to the person writing the Will, or the court in the case of someone who dies intestate, to judge whether there is a suitable person in the family, and if there is, whether the family structure would nevertheless be better served by an outside trustee. It is unreasonable to expect any general law to produce the best solution for every situation; the good law will rather be sufficiently flexible to allow for judgment calls in each situation.

    I personally have seen this money earmarked as such become ‘re-appropriated’ for other uses, already in this early stage of development.

    If you know of criminal behaviour, you should report it to the civil authorities, even if a Bahai institution is involved. This is an implication of the priority of civil law over religious law.

    So yes, these inheritance laws need careful re-evaluation, added clauses and amendments before they can be applied in a way that protects the financial well-being of the community members.

    Naturally. Religious law is in two levels, the revealed text (shariah) and its codification and systematization (Qanun). It is the responsibility of the Houses of Justice to produce the qanun for Bahai religious law. If your National Spiritual Assembly has produced a handbook for local spiritual assemblies, it is likely to consist largely of the ‘canonisation’ of Bahai religious law, specifying who has authority for what, procedures, exceptions, penalties, and so on.


    If the Parents set up a joint fund for the children’s education and one parent dies, what happens to that money, under the inheritance laws, even if they left a will?

    If the deceased has left a Will, its terms are presumed to take priority unless clearly contrary to civil law. Next comes civil law, and civil courts that will decide with regard to the specifics of the case. In the absence of both, the Local Assembly must decide, with regard to the specifics.

    However such a fund for the children of the legates would, generally speaking, not satisfy the requirement of the Lawh-e Dunya:

    Everyone, whether man or woman, should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earneth through trade, agriculture or other occupation, for the training and education of children, to be spent for this purpose with the knowledge of the Trustees of the House of Justice.
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 89)

    This is not money from parents for children: it is an income-based religious tax, for the education of all children, and the trustee of this must be someone approved by the House of Justice, for the contributions to be religiously valid. A National Spiritual Assembly could, for example, say that the contributions made to government-funded education through income tax satisfy this religious law. Or it could say that tax contributions do not fully satisfy this law (for example because the text covers education for all children, not just those in one country), so that an additional contribution is required, and it could approve existing charitable organisations as trustees, or designate its own.

    Also, in a family home, how is each investment of the Mother and the Father calculated so that the son only receives his Father’s share upon his death, as you mentioned earlier?

    Civil laws in most countries already provide for the equal ownership of matrimonial properties. This is not a difficult procedure, it is the exceptions (when one party wants some property to be regarded as not part of the joint ownership) that lead to problems.

    In this case it does seem that the family home will have to be sold

    When the husband and wife were joint owners, the home did not have to be sold. But when Father and daughter or Mother and son are joint owners, it would?

    What if the eldest son is too young to do anything with his share of the home – does it then go to the Assembly?

    Baha’u’llah says, “If the deceased should leave children who are under age, their share of the inheritance must be entrusted to a reliable individual, or to a company, that it may be invested on their behalf in trade and business until they come of age. The trustee should be assigned a due share of the profit that hath accrued to it from being thus employed. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 28). So no, the Assembly is not automatically the trustee – that must be stipulated in the Will, or decided according to civil law, or if neither exists, by the Local Spiritual Assembly.

    A changing paradigm deserves careful consideration, and it behooves women to not allow themselves to become financially disadvantaged under that paradigm so they can participate equally to create a balanced and just civilization for women and men alike. It is better to think about these things before supporting something that sounds good when in practice it may not be so good.

    Does anything in the Writings talk about the Wars of Terrorism now taking place, and is the Eleven Essentials (not yet in place) a means of naming the causes in your opinion? “God is God’ rather than “He is God”, is a good start, so the Spirit of the Female can better participate to bring Balance along with her counterpart.

  26. J. Ray said

    Justice: Some Questions and Statements have come to my attention regarding this exchange and I address them here:

    Question: What rights are granted to the eldest son over the widow? News to me.

    Justice: (excerpts in this discussion as they pertain in answer Questions/Statements)

    Baha’i Research Department (RD) on behalf of the Universal House of Justice in its Memorandum of 2/2/94 writes:

    “In understanding the rationale for the various provisions of the laws of inheritance, several factors should be borne in mind:
    *1).The first is the primary responsibility of the man to support his wife and family.
    *2). The second is the hereditary principle which is embodied in the provisions of the law of inheritance.
    *3). And the third is the role of the Spiritual Assembly to protect the poor.

    Justice: It is primarily to the second point that I make reference (hereditary principle) re the son having privilege over the wife that I submit discussion from the House and Research Dept.

    RD: The Law of Primogeniture in the Baha’i Faith:
    “The hereditary principle is embodied in the provision of the Baha’I Laws of inheritance, as indicated and explained by the extract from the letter dated 24 July 1975 written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual.”

    “These provisions give expression to the law of primogeniture which, as `Abdu’l-baha has stated has invariably been upheld by the Law of God. In a Tablet to a follower of the Faith in Persia He wrote: “In all the Divine Dispensations the eldest son hath been given extra ordinary distinctions. Even the station prophethood hath been his birthright.” With the distinctions given to the eldest son, however, go concomitant duties. For example, with respect to the law of inheritance `Abdu’l-baha has explained in one of His Tablets that the eldest son has the responsibility to take into consideration the needs of the other heirs.”

    “The allocation the residence to the first born son, rather than to the widow, is an example of the operation of this principle. In this regard, the Universal House of Justice has clarified that “this son at the same time has the responsibility to care for his mother”.

    Justice: Re the Third point – role of the Spiritual Assembly to help the orphaned/poor where the Assembly receives the shares of the offspring rather than the widow:

    RD: The Role of the Spiritual Assembly
    “The Kitabi-i-Aqdas defines a role for the Spiritual Assembly in caring for the “Orphaned Wife”. In explicating the laws of inheritance Baha’u’llah states:

    Should the deceased leave no offspring, their share shall revert to the House of Justice, to be expended by this Trustee of the All Merciful on the orphaned and widowed, and on whatsoever will bring benefit to the generality of the people that all may give thanks unto their Lord, the All-Gracious, the Pardoner.”

    Justice: The offspring (being the eldest son inheriting the house) means the family home will go to the Spiritual Assembly, and unless she has her own funds she will be “orphaned”.

    Question: As pointed out the eldest daughter inherits the mother’s share of the family home. Does that give her rights over her father?

    Justice: The family home, in its entirety, goes to the son; unless you mean that the Mother has paid for half of the house, and can “prove it”, that she “owns” half of the house and the eldest daughter, if she inherits her Mother’s share, can have say about the father living in the home. Do you have a reference for the Question statement above?

    Question/Statement: I don’t know of anything about children getting rights over their parents inheritance-wise.

    Justice: The widow receives nothing other than what she can prove the husband gave her as gifts in regards to clothing and jewelry; whereas children receive shares of the father’s estate, and the eldest son receives ownership of the family house, not the widow, she in fact is classified as ‘the orphaned wife’ in Baha’i literature.

    Question/Statement: In my view, it simply means is that the male-female symmetry is preserved where possible: the son&mother or daughter&father pair replaces the father&mother pair, and when the surviving parent dies, it is eldest son&daughter who own the home.

    Justice: The mother NEVER gets the family home, so she has no power to pass it to her children or anyone else. As stated above, if there is no offspring the homes goes to the Assembly.

    Statement: The symbolism is largely lost on us, in a society where people change their address on average every 5 years (something I do not expect to change), but it will be alive for some farmers, where “the family home” still has a real meaning. For renters and movers like me, the law is interesting primarily for what it says about the kind of gender equality Baha’u’llah and the Bab had in mind: not ungendered equality, but a symmetrical equality that recognises that mother and sisters and daughters have things in common — materialised in the form of the personal possession and the family home — and that fathers and sons and brothers have things in common. What “being a woman” entails in a particular society, depends largely on the society, but it is an experience which the mother and daughter largely share, and the same for “being a man.”

    Justice: Not to be disparaging, but somehow this sounds like sophistry or a way of disadvantaging women from their full equality and financial stability in the society in the long run to me.

    RD: Abdu’l-baha has stated that in this Dispensation “Equality of men and women, except in some negligible instances, has been fully and categorically announce.
    Research Dept of UHJ writes:

    “In light of the above several points bear consideration. First, it is important to note that while in certain instances equality is LESS THAN TOTAL, the inequalities that do remain between men and women have been characterized by `Abdu’l-baha as “negligible”.

    Justice: There IS concern by the House for the support of the wife/widow:

    Research Department: “With regard to possible means of ensuring a greater degree of financial security for the wife, there appears to be scope for husband and wife to enter into a marriage contract which could set out in detail the kinds of financial support the husband would provide for his wife. In relation to such a contract, the Universal House of Justice in a letter dated 2 February 1982, written on its behalf, stated:

    “It should also be born in mind that Baha’u’llah envisages the possibility for specific conditions to be laid down and agreed upon by the parties prior to their marriage. This means that in addition to the spiritual covenant the parties become committed to, they are permitted by the Author of our Faith to enter into a form of contract if they chose, with defined conditions and provision binding on both parties.”

    Justice

  27. Sen said

    Baha’i Research Department (RD) on behalf of the Universal House of Justice in its Memorandum of 2/2/94 writes:

    “In understanding the rationale for the various provisions of the laws of inheritance, several factors should be borne in mind:
    *1).The first is the primary responsibility of the man to support his wife and family.
    *2). The second is the hereditary principle which is embodied in the provisions of the law of inheritance.
    *3). And the third is the role of the Spiritual Assembly to protect the poor.

    Neither the research department nor the UHJ are authoritative interpreters of the writings, for there is no guarantee that they understand them in the first place, and even if they have understood correctly, no written authority that would ensure their interpretations would be accepted and so avoid disunity. Rather, they give us their opinions, which we must weigh for ourselves.

    I know of nothing to suggest that the responsibility of the man to support his wife and family is greater than or excludes the same responsibility of the wife and children. Texts may be written from a male perspective, about male responsibilities etc., but they should be applied to men and women equally unless the text specifies otherwise.

    Primogeniture refers to the privilege of the eldest, not the priority of the male (that is patriarchy). I am not sure if you, or the Research Department, is aware of this. The Aqdas law passes the deceased’s share of the family home to the eldest son/daughter, rather than to the surviving spouse, so ensuring continuity between the generations, while avoiding splitting the ownership and responsibility for a single property between more than two people. It does this by privileging the eldest — by primogeniture. Naturally the eldest has the duty duty to take care of the other heirs – the Bahai writings speak of a family based on mutual rights and responsibilities, from all to all.

    “The Kitabi-i-Aqdas defines a role for the Spiritual Assembly in caring for the “Orphaned Wife”. In explicating the laws of inheritance Baha’u’llah states:

    Should the deceased leave no offspring, their share shall revert to the House of Justice, to be expended by this Trustee of the All Merciful on the orphaned and widowed, and on whatsoever will bring benefit to the generality of the people that all may give thanks unto their Lord, the All-Gracious, the Pardoner.”

    Justice: The offspring (being the eldest son inheriting the house) means the family home will go to the Spiritual Assembly, and unless she has her own funds she will be “orphaned”.

    No, neither the text nor the Research Department has said that. The reversion of the children’s shares to the House of Justice relates to the economic property, which is divided mathematically into shares, not to the family home which is exempted from this division (it would lead to fragmentation of ownership). The Aqdas says,

    We have divided inheritance into seven categories: to the children, We have allotted nine parts comprising five hundred and forty shares; … When We heard the clamour of the children as yet unborn, We doubled their share …
    Should the deceased leave no offspring, their share shall revert to the House of Justice, to be expended by the Trustees of the All-Merciful on the orphaned and widowed, and on whatsoever will bring benefit to the generality of the people, that all may give thanks unto their Lord, the All-Gracious, the Pardoner.

    The family home, in its entirety, goes to the son; unless you mean that the Mother has paid for half of the house, and can “prove it”, that she “owns” half of the house and the eldest daughter,

    You want to impose social assumptions about the inevitability of sexual inequality onto the Aqdas law (not allowing wives to be co-owners in the home), and then propose revising the Aqdas law to remove the inequality! Who are you to say that only men can own property, so the father owns it all? What on earth makes you think that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha were thinking in these terms?

    Justice (no pun intended) requires that a husband and wife who have worked together to create a family, should be treated as joint owners of the matrimonial property, including the home. If they wish to avoid that general principal applying, they can make a marriage contract that specifies something different.

    The widow receives nothing other than what she can prove the husband gave her as gifts in regards to clothing and jewelry;

    Not true again. But first I note that you assume that the man owns the wealth and the husband gifts it to her. You read everything through sexist assumptions which seem to be unshakable. As for the Aqdas law, with respect to the economic property, it stipulates “..to the wife, eight parts comprising four hundred and eighty shares;” This of course applies if the deceased is a man (the Aqdas does not assume the man owns the property!). In Question 55, where the question is “If the deceased be a woman, to whom is the ‘wife’s’ share of the inheritance allotted?” the answer is “The ‘wife’s’ share of the inheritance is allotted to the husband.”

    If you were not aware that spouses have a share of the inheritance, I guess you have not actually read the Aqdas law that you are so free to criticize, and bold to revise. I’m going on holiday until the 13th, so I won’t be approving anyone’s comments. If you want to continue, I think you must begin by reading the Aqdas and its notes, with respect to the law of inheritance, carefully, trying to read what the text itself says without imposing any socially conditioned assumptions onto it.

  28. Back on “He”, why is there this substitution of the word “God” with “He”?

    The Shahadah is “There is no God but God!”. This formulation is the standard forumulation. “There is no God but He!”, “There is no He but God!”, and “The is no He but He!” are variations you get when you substitute “God” with “He”.

    A Sufi variation is “God is God!”. “God is He!”, “He is God!”, and “He is He” are variations you get from the standard.

    In Arabic above “God = Allah” and “He = Hu”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahada

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalimah

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Kalimas

    One, Baha’is generally tend to assume the Baha’i shahadah is new but actually has been used by Sufis for centuries. Two, why does the He substituted form get used all the time over the standard forms?

  29. Sen said

    The Shahadah is not specifically a sufi formula: it is Islamic, going back to the time of the companions of the prophet, as you would see from the Wikipedia article you cite. It begins “there is no god but God…”

    You appear to be expecting that every text should begin with those words, but this is neither the Muslim nor the Bahai practice. In fact I cannot think of any Islamic text that does begin with the Shahadah: usually the introductory formula is in the form of “In the name of God, the merciful” – if the subject of the text is mercy, or “in the name of God, the Just”, if the subject is justice. These are called Tasmiyyeh formulas. Not every writer makes his tasmiyyeh indicate the subject he will address: “in the name of God, the merciful” is used for all sorts of texts. More simply “He is God,” can be used for texts on all subjects.

    While the shahadah and introductory formulas for texts (or speeches) are two different things, there is a connection between them, in the Quran 59:24, which reads, “He is God, of whom (it is true): “there is no other god but God. He is the knower of the hidden and the observed…”

  30. Why “He is God”, why not “God is God”?

    I see “There is no God but God” and “God is God” as being the classicaly used forms with people sometimes using He to subsitute God. But each and every time in Bahai Writings He is used to substitute God invariably.

  31. Sen said

    Can you give me an example of the use of “God is God” in Islamic literature? I don’t think it is a usual form in written texts, perhaps you encountered it in a chant?

  32. Isa said

    Stephen, I think the Baha’i Writings are going for a double, perhaps triple meaning with the phrase, “He is God.” On the one hand, I think it is affirming that no one else is God but God “Himself.” Not kings, not wealthy people, not the worldly powerful, etc. The second meaning I believe it suggests is affirming the concept that the “Manifestation of God” is as God from humanity’s perspective. The Manifestation of God is not God from an absolute perspective, and certainly not from God’s perspective, but from humanity’s perspective, the Manifestation of God sort of “plays the part” of God, but even the Manifestations know that they are not God. A third meaning that I considered is the word “Hu”, in Sufism. In Islamic mysticism, the name “Hu” (“He” in Arabic) is a very powerful name of God and Sufis chant this name in their gatherings. The Baha’i Faith has some links to Sufism, but breaks away from it in some significant ways as well.

  33. Sen, I can’t find it again, but I think it was either Wikipedia or a link in a reference.

    Shadaha: La ilaha ila Allah
    Other variation: Allah li Allah

    These are the classical formulations. Some time Hu/Huwa is used as a substitute for either Allah or ilaha or both, but the above formulations are the originals. The other one I forgot where it originally came from.

  34. Sen said

    You have misunderstood what is being said in the Arabic. “Allah li Allah” is not a variant of “La ilaha ila Allah,” it is a possible continuation of it. As you cite it, as a separate phrase, “Allah li Allah” would mean “God (is) to/for God” which is nonsense. But you have broken the phrase in the wrong place. It should be:

    La ilaha ila Allah. Li Allah al hamd.
    There is no divinity but God. Praise be to God.

  35. [...] to value diversity as a sign of a healthy society); For another listing of Bahai Teachings see: “Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London” or scroll to below for a list of Bahai Teachings written by Shoghi Effendi.   While the degree [...]

  36. Isa, you’re painting humanity with a wide brush. While, Christians and Hindus would say that their respective Manifestations (Jesus and Krishna) are God, most religious people of the world have views that contradict your blanket statement. Most people on earth belong to a religious group that say it’s blasphemous to say that their Manifestation is God, even from a perspective. Jews don’t go around saying Moses is God from any perspective, nor do Muslims and Muhammad, Zorastrians with Zoroaster, Buddhists with Buddha, etc. Most religions view their Manifestation more of as a delegate or as a post officer or something of that sorts. Manifestation theology retroactively imposes Baha’i theology on pre-Baha’i religions.

  37. Sen said

    There’s not such a great gulf between person-centred religions and message-centred religions, Stephen. Yes, most Christians and some Hindus (and Bahais and Babis) emphasize the person who embodies the divine Will – but by that, do they mean so many kilos of bone and muscle? Rather, it is the example, the divine Will embodied in a life, even to sacrificing life, that is the person.

    Islamic theology, for example, has emphasized the message, not the messenger, with a “minor chord” of theology about the Muhammadian Light. But by “the message” they mean not only the exact words of the Quran, but also the example of Muhammad as a person, his Sunnah.

    And Buddhism? Is the Buddha central, or the teachings of the Buddha? Perhaps Buddhism is a good example of why there can be no real distinction, in religion, between the teachings and the person who embodies them. The prophet (etc.) makes the claim to actually be, his own teachings, whereas the philosopher need not embody his ideas consistently to have them taken seriously.

  38. Hasan said

    Sen, you wrote:
    Neither the research department nor the UHJ are authoritative interpreters of the writings, for there is no guarantee that they understand them in the first place, and even if they have understood correctly, no written authority that would ensure their interpretations would be accepted and so avoid disunity. Rather, they give us their opinions, which we must weigh for ourselves.

    I write:
    The House doesn’t interpret.

  39. Sen said

    That’s right Hasan – they don’t Interpret (authoritatively). Naturally they read the texts and have their own understandings of them. One cannot read (a book, or the world) without interpreting it, with a small ‘i’.

  40. Xyz said

    Sen wrote “Rather, they give us their opinions, which we must weigh for ourselves.”

    Is this your opinion or the Baha’i teaching? If it is Baha’i teaching then please quote relevant writings.

  41. Sen said

    It is a Bahai teaching that “Neither the research department nor the UHJ are authoritative interpreters of the writings, for there is no guarantee that they understand them in the first place, and even if they have understood correctly, no written authority that would ensure their interpretations would be accepted and so avoid disunity.” It follows that they can only give us their opinions about the meaning of the Writings (and about the best translations), which we must weigh for ourselves. The texts behind this are very numerous: one text for each point will suffice: you can find more using a programme such as Ocean.

    1) Authorised interpretation is limited to the Master, who is “the Center of His Covenant with all mankind and the appointed Interpreter and Expounder of His Word” and the Guardian (and his successors among his lineal descendents, had he had any):

    “He is the Interpreter of the Word of God,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, referring to the functions of the Guardian of the Faith, asserts, using  in His Will the very term which He Himself had chosen when refuting the argument of the Covenant-breakers who had challenged His right to interpret the utterances of Bahá’u’lláh. “After him,” He adds, “will succeed the first-born of his lineal descendants.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 148)

    2) The Universal House of Justice does not have this power

    “the Guardian of the Faith has been made the Interpreter of the Word and that the Universal House of Justice has been invested with the function of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the teachings. 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 judgment 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.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 149)

    3) The Research Department expresses only individual opinions

    “To preclude any possibility of [commentaries from the Research Department] being confused with letters written by the House of Justice, or on its behalf, it is important that such commentaries be distinctly identified. It is also vital that the believers understand clearly that these Research Department statements should be regarded as representing no more than the views of the members of that Department.
    (16 August 1987 to an individual believer)

    4) There is no guarantee that the House of Justice or Research Department correctly understand the Bahai teachings:

    Though the Guardian of the Faith has been made the permanent head of so august a body he can never, even temporarily, assume the right of exclusive legislation. He cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances. He interprets what has been specifically revealed,…”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150)

    and a letter from the Universal House of Justice shows their understanding of these principles:

    There is a profound difference between the interpretations of the Guardian and the elucidations of the House of Justice in 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 Guardian reveals what the Scripture means; his interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied. Upon the Universal House of Justice, in the words of the Guardian, “has been conferred the exclusive right of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the Bahá’í Writings.” Its pronouncements, which are susceptible of amendment or abrogation by the House of Justice itself, serve to supplement and apply the Law of God. Although not invested with the function of interpretation, the House of Justice is in a position to do everything necessary to establish the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh on this earth. Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” or “inspired” interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice.
    (The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Messages 1963-1968, p. 52)

    .

    and

    Shoghi Effendi has given categorical assurances that neither the Guardian nor the Universal House of Justice “can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.” 3 Therefore, the friends can be sure that the Universal House of Justice will not engage in interpreting the Holy Writings. . . .

    (The Universal House of Justice, 1984 Oct 25, Universal House of Justice – Power of Elucidation)

  42. Xyz said

    I know the UHJ is not an authoritative interpreter. That was not my question. My question was whether there is any writing to support your opinion that the UHJ can make non-authoritative interpretations of the scriptures? I have come across Shoghi Effendi’s writings wherein he allows individuals to make non-authoritative interpretation of the scriptures. I have not come across any writings that allows the UHJ to make non-authoritative interpretation of the scriptures.

  43. Xyz said

    In your post # 41 in subsection # 4 you have quoted a letter from the UHJ from the Wellspring of Guidance, page 52. Are you saying that this quote is a non-authoritative interpretation of the scripture by the UHJ and therefore an individual Baha’i can either accept or reject it?

  44. Sen said

    Since everyone is entitled to interpret the Bahai Writings in a non-authoritative way, it would be strange indeed if the Assemblies and the Houses of Justice were not entitled to do this. When the Universal House of Justice says that it is “not invested with the function of interpretation” and “will not engage in interpreting the Holy Writings” this must mean, in the context, “interpretation [such as the Guardian provides]” ie it means “not invested with the function of [authoritative] interpretation” and “will not engage in interpreting the Holy Writings [authoritatively].” It’s also common sense: every reading is an interpretation, and every reasoning based on a reading is an interpretation. If the Universal House of Justice were not permitted to interpret at all, it would have to be brain-dead.

    Yes, the two letters from the Universal House of Justice that I quoted are, in part, non-authoritative interpretations of the Writings, and in particular of what Shoghi Effendi had written in the subject. They quote some of his words, and draw conclusions. The part in bold appears to me to be more of a statement of their own policy, based naturally on their interpretations of the Writings. And yes again, if you wish to interpret the Writings in a way that is different to the interpretations offered by the House of Justice, you are quite free to do so.

  45. Xyz said

    What you call as non-authoritative interpretations by the UHJ are in fact just the UHJ saying what the writings are saying. In other words the UHJ is using different words to say the same thing as the writings. For example the bold statement in your post # 41 subsection # 4 is the UHJ’s way of saying what Shoghi Effendi said about the two institutions not infringing on the domain of the other.

    I don’t think an individual Baha’i can reject the quotes of the UHJ that you give in post # 41 subsection # 4. If Baha’is had the option to reject them it would lead to disunity in the Baha’i Faith with some Baha’is opposing the UHJ.

  46. Sen said

    “What you call as non-authoritative interpretations by the UHJ are in fact just the UHJ saying what the writings are saying.”

    Exactly. This was one of the points I made in the posting “UHJ elucidations” on this blog. To quote myself:

    The UHJ’s own practice makes me think that elucidation — by reference to specific scripture and facts — is the UHJ’s method of first choice. If there is sufficient specific and clear scripture to draw on, the required degree of uniformity in practice can be achieved by pointing to it, and its relevance, providing for translations where necessary, and adding relevant facts, while leaving it to the consultations of assemblies and the reason of individuals to apply the information. Legislation in the narrow sense, of making a new religious ruling for the Bahai community, is necessary only where sufficient uniformity of practice cannot be achieved by elucidation alone.

    In addition to quoting the scriptures — in their own words or by direct quotation — the UHJ also provides elucidations of problems that cause difficulties by making an argument that appeals to reason. To quote myself again, this

    does not breach the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” … interpretations because it is not intended to be authoritative: it is not to be accepted simply because it is stated, rather, it is to be considered, understood, weighed. If it persuades, it persuades by its cogency, not because of the authority of its author. … the UHJ is not barred from using both reason and scripture to explain itself, and we may well find its reasoning and the scripture it quotes persuasive, and adjust our understanding accordingly. What we may not do is treat it as authoritative for Bahai beliefs simply because it comes from the UHJ: that would be to turn the UHJ into a substitute Guardian.

    It is a mistake to think that extending the authority of the House of Justice strengthens it, and strengthens the Bahai community. The strength of the House of Justice lies in its explicit scriptural mandate, and any exaggeration in fact weakens the House of Justice, however well intentioned it may be. It would not lead to greater unity, but to disunity. Our ability as Bahais to sustain our unity over the generations derives from the fact that we have a Covenant written in explicit documents that we can all see, and which leave no room for any legitimate alternative views about the structure of the Bahai community. If someone wants to do away with the House of Justice, or follow a self-appointed guardian, or the like, it is evident to everyone that these are just baseless aberrations. But as soon as anything is added to what is explicit in the scriptural mandate of the Bahai institutions, even in the belief that it may be necessary for unity, some Bahais will quite legitimately object and disagree. Our unity rests on what is explicit in the text: anything an individual Bahai might wish to think above and beyond cannot be held up as a standard for any other Bahai. Bahai history, and the history of other religions, shows that theological exaggeration is by far more damaging than erring on the side of caution (see “The Supreme Institution” on this blog)

    My route to the university — by bicycle — takes me through the centre of the old town in Leiden, down narrow cobbled alleys. The photographs here show two sections of one of these alleys. In the picture on the right you can see that one of the shop keepers has put out a sign. It says “shopping area, no cycling.” The shop keeper has no authority to do that, and there’s no law against cycling in a shopping area, but it is a very reasonable statement. The alley is too narrow, and too crowded with pedestrians during shopping hours, for cycling. In the picture on the left, you can see a round blue sign indicating that this block is pedestrians only. Cyclists are supposed to get off and walk, and I do. The first has no authority, except reason itself. The round blue sign is to be obeyed whether you think it reasonable, or not.

    Leiden alley authoritative .
    . Leiden alley non-authoritative

  47. Xyz said

    I am not extending the authority of the UHJ. Let me try to put it in other way. I again refer to the 2 quotes from your post 41 subsection 4. You say that a Baha’i can disagree with these quotes. Lets say a Baha’i disagrees with both the quotes. This Baha’i believes the elucidations of the UHJ are not susceptible of amendment and that the UHJ does engage in interpreting the Holy Writings. My guess is this Baha’i will not be tolerated in the Baha’i community if he does not alter his views because his views goes against the Baha’i teachings. It is Baha’i teaching that the elucidations of the UHJ can be altered and the UHJ does not interpret the Holy Writ.

    In post 42 I have asked if there is any writing that allows the UHJ to make non-authoritative interpretation of the scriptures. You have not given any writing. Therefore it would be fair to say that it is not a Baha’i teaching but just your personal opinion. The Assemblies and the UHJ do not engage in non-authoritative interpretation. Individuals do that. It is not common sense to apply something that is applicable to an individual Baha’i to Assemblies and the UHJ.

  48. Sen said

    Somebody whose views go against the Bahai teachings may not be tolerated in the Bahai community, although it would have to be pretty extreme. However whether the UHJ has, or has not, repeated the Bahai teachings in its communications is not relevant. The Bahai teachings are in the Bahai scriptures, and are embodied in Baha’u’llah and in the example set by Abdu’l-Baha. Naturally, quite a lot of them are also repeated in the writings of individual Bahais and in the communications of the House of Justice, but that is irrelevant. It is the Word of God (in the broadest sense) that is the substance, and it doesn’t matter how often or who repeats the substance.

    Certainly it is my opinion that the UHJ can make non-authoritative interpretations, as can any individual. It is your opinion that “Assemblies and the UHJ do not engage in non-authoritative interpretation,” and you are perfectly entitled to your opinion — but not all opinions are reasonable. Every action we make, every reading of a text or of sense impressions, involves an interpretation. Even animals interpret sensory data to be able to live in the world. Interpretation and consciousness are so interrelated, that the absence of interpretation would indicate brain death (or maybe a coma, but who knows what goes on inside a coma?). On the assumption that Baha’u’llah did not intend his Assemblies to be brain dead, my opinion is that everything they do and communicate necessarily embodies implicit or explicit interpretations of the Bahai teachings. It is then important to be aware that these interpretations are not authoritative, for the only authoritative interpreters of the Bahai writings and teachings are Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.

  49. Xyz said

    “On the assumption that Baha’u’llah did not intend his Assemblies to be brain dead, my opinion is that everything they do and communicate necessarily embodies implicit or explicit interpretations of the Bahai teachings. It is then important to be aware that these interpretations are not authoritative, for the only authoritative interpreters of the Bahai writings and teachings are Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.”

    If your position is correct then every Baha’i will have the freedom to disagree with and thus disobey the Assemblies and the UHJ. If an interpretation is non-authoritative then it is non-binding on the Baha’is. A Baha’i can disagree with and disobey a non-binding interpretation. The fact that Baha’is donot have the option to disobey the Assemblies and the UHJ means your position is incorrect.

  50. Sen said

    Your logic is incorrect. We are required to obey our local assemblies and our governments, but we have no assurance that they are correct, and we do not have to agree with their decisions: we do have to implement them. Bahais do not have a freedom to disobey the Universal House of Justice, nor are we entitled to move the House of Justice into the empty shoes of the Guardianship, by treating their words as equivalent. We are required to distinguish between the two institutions, and to obey both. One gives us authoritative interpretations of the Bahai scriptures and teachings, the other gives us unity as a community, and unity in action. One tells us what the scriptures mean, the other tells us “what is to be done.”

    Shoghi Effendi said that the Guardian himself could not overrule the House of Justice if it made a decision contrary to the teachings. So certainly no individual Bahai can do so.

    He [the Guardian] cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 150)

    and the House of Justice writes that it…

    … is not omniscient, … . Like the Guardian, the House of Justice wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge… .
    (Letter of June 14, 1996: Infallibility, Women on House of Justice)

    So both the Guardian and the House of Justice allow for the possibility that a decision by the UHJ may conflict with Bahai teachings, or be based on incorrect information. Neither conclude that every Bahai has the freedom “to disobey the Assemblies and the UHJ.” So obviously, the result you foresee from my position, is not inescapable.

    The argument from negative consequences that you use is a logically invalid form of argumentation. For example; “if X is true then the world would implode tomorrow” does not prove that X cannot be true. Either the negative consequence may not in fact follow from X (as in the case above), or it may a 100% certain result of X — but X may still be true, and the truth or not of X has to be ascertained from evidence. To discover the Bahai teachings, we have to go to the Bahai Writings and study them. Arguments from the possible consequences in the Bahai community are irrelevant. This approach requires a degree of faith in the robustness of the Bahai community, and the Wisdom of the source of the Bahai teachings.
    .

  51. Xyz said

    I am not talking about the decisions made by Assemblies and the UHJ. Baha’is have to obey those decisions. I am talking of non-authoritative interpretations of the scriptures. If Assemblies and the UHJ make non-authoritative interpretations of the scriptures (as you say they do) then a Baha’i can disobey those interpretations because they are non-binding. It is illogical to say the interpretation is non-authoritative but binding on the Baha’is. Only authoritative interpretations are binding on the Baha’is.

    Also you have quoted Shoghi Effendi’s words from WOB page 150. Here the Guardian is talking in context of the UHJ legislating on matters not revealed in the Aqdas. He is not talking of the UHJ making non-authoritative interpretation of the scriptures that is binding on the Baha’is. Since the UHJ legislates on matters not revealed in the Aqdas the question of interpreting the scriptures does not arise. These laws of the UHJ are not non-authoritative interpretations of the scriptures. They are laws not revealed in the Aqdas meant to supplement and apply the laws of the Aqdas. These laws can be amended and abrogated by the UHJ whereas the laws revealed in the Aqdas cannot be amended or abrogated by the UHJ.

  52. Sen said

    The assemblies and the UHJ make their own interpretations of the scriptures, ranging from general ones (what is the purpose of our institution) to quite specific ones relating to a specific verse. An example of a specific interpretation is this:

    “It is true that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made statements linking the establishment of the unity of the nations to the twentieth century. For example ‘…The fifth candle is the unity of nations — a unity which, in this century, will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland…’ And, in The Promised Day is Come, following a similar statement quoted from Some Answered Questions, Shoghi Effendi makes this comment: ‘This is the stage which the world is now approaching, the stage of world unity, which, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us, will, in this century, be securely established.’  
    (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice, July 29, 1974)

    They took a verse which refers to “this century” and interpreted it “the twentieth century.”

    As you say, only authoritative interpretations are binding on the Baha’is. So we are not required to believe that Abdu’l-Baha “made statements linking the establishment of the unity of the nations to the twentieth century.” The interpretations of the House of Justice are not authoritative, so anyone may disagree with them. They may be based on incorrect or partial information about what is in the Bahai scriptures, or incorporate incorrect assumptions, or bad logic, etc… they are prone to all the problems that affect every individual’s interpretations of the scripture and teachings. However, the “enactments” made by the House of Justice are still binding even if they are, or if we think they are, in conflict with the meaning of Baha’u’llah’s writings or depart from their spirit. We may not take the interpretations of the UHJ as authoritative (that would be putting the UHJ in the shoes of the Guardianship), and we may not disobey the UHJ’s rulings.

    You say “Since the UHJ legislates on matters not revealed in the Aqdas the question of interpreting the scriptures does not arise. These laws of the UHJ are not non-authoritative interpretations of the scriptures.” But an enactment on a matter not specifically covered in the Aqdas and other Writings, will necessarily embody interpretations of the scripture, ranging from general to specific, and it may, as the Guardian says, “conflict with the meaning … of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances.” If that possibility did not exist, Shoghi Effendi would not have had to tell us what to do should the case arise.

  53. Xyz said

    Shoghi Effendi does not say twentieth century but at the time he made this interpretation it was the twentieth century. So “in this century” phrase in The Promised Day is Come refers to twentieth century. So this is not the UHJ’s interpretation but Shoghi Effendi’s interpretation which is authoritative and binding on the Baha’is.

    You wrote “But an enactment on a matter not specifically covered in the Aqdas and other Writings, will necessarily embody interpretations of the scripture, ranging from general to specific…”. Not at all correct. For example the Guardian has said that the UHJ needs to legislate on the age of retirement as this matter is not revealed in the Aqdas. Now lets say the UHJ legislates the age of retirement as 70 years. How does this involve interpretation of the scripture? It does not. The UHJ can change this age to 80 years. It again does not involve interpretation of the scripture. The laws of the UHJ can conflict with the meaning of the Baha’i teachings as Shoghi Effendi says but that does not make their laws non-authoritative interpretations of the scriptures.

  54. Sen said

    Shoghi Effendi does not say twentieth century but at the time he made this interpretation it was the twentieth century. So “in this century” phrase in The Promised Day is Come refers to twentieth century.

    Well, that’s your interpretation of what Shoghi Effendi meant. I think it’s doubtful that he did mean that, for two reasons:

    1) The Promised Day is Come was written in March 1941, Gregorian calendar, which is 1360 in the Islamic lunar calendar, or 1320 in the Persian solar calendar. These were the two calendars that Abdu’l-Baha used in his correspondence. 1941 is the year 98 in the Bahai calendar, which features largely in Shoghi Effendi thinking. Shoghi Effendi’s God Passes By reviews the events of the first Bahai century. So if “century” meant a calendar period of 100 years, there are four options, and the Gregorian 20th century is the least likely one. Of course you are welcome to make your interpretation, and the UHJ is welcome to its interpretation. But it is not possible to argue that the choice is not an interpretation.

    2) What Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi mean by “century” is not, usually, a calendar period of 100 years. Often it means the Bahai dispensation, the period between Baha’u’llah and the next great prophet, which will be at least 1000 years according to Baha’u’llah. For example:

    1. The Spiritual Assemblies to be established in this Age of God, this holy century, have… had neither peer nor likeness in the cycles gone before.
    (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, page 82)

    2. The teachings of Baha’u’llah are the light of this age and the spirit of this century.
    (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, page 107)

    3. In every century a particular and central theme is, … confirmed by God. In this illumined age that which is confirmed is the oneness of the world of humanity.
    (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, page 114)

    4. Gradually whatsoever is latent in the innermost of this Holy Cycle shall appear and be made manifest, … Ere the close of this Century and of this Age, it shall be made clear and manifest how wondrous was that Springtide …
    (quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 16)

    5. … in any of the past cycles and dispensations, no assemblies for women have ever been established … This is one of the characteristics of this glorious Dispensation and this great century.
    (Compilation on Women,; Compilation of Compilations page 397)

    I’ve selected these examples because century is used in parallel with other terms, so those who know no Persian can see what is meant. In the first of these, ‘this century’ is parallel to ‘this Age of God.’ In the second, third and fourth, ‘century’ is parallel to ‘age,’ and it is clear that the age characterised by the oneness of humanity is not the twentieth century, but rather the Bahai dispensation. In the fifth quote, century is parallel to ‘dispensation,’ which is parallel to ‘cycle.’

    Baha’u’llah uses these terms in a similar way:

    6. ““This is the Day which past ages and centuries can never rival…” to “Peerless is this Day, for it is as the eye to past ages and centuries, and as a light unto the darkness of the times.”
    (Cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 79)

    7. Briefly, in every age and century differences have arisen in the days of the manifestation of the Daysprings of Revelation, …
    (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 120)

    8. Such objections and differences have persisted in every age and century.
    (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 81)

    9. In every age and century, the purpose of the Prophets of God and their chosen ones …
    (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 120)

    Examples 6 to 9 are all translated by Shoghi Effendi. Examples 1 to 3 above, translated by the World Centre, are modelled on the way Shoghi Effendi translated similar phrases in the writings of Baha’u’llah. We can see that, most often, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use “age and century” (or one or the other term) to mean the dispensation of a Prophet.

    This of course is my interpretation, without any authority. However it is at least based on a close reading of the Writings, rather than simply imposing an assumption onto the text, as you have done. If it persuades, it does so because of the evidence and the reasoning, and this is the same with all non-authoritative interpretations.

    See ‘Century of Light” on this blog for a more detailed discussion of the terms translated as ‘century’ in the Bahai Writings.

  55. Xyz said

    Have you asked the UHJ how did they conclude “this century” as the twentieth century? Maybe either Abdul-Baha or Shoghi Effendi has clarified this means twentieth century. If my memory serves me right I had heard Mr. Ali Nakhjavani saying that Abdul-Baha had clarified this as the twentieth century of the Gregorian calendar. Again I may be wrong. The best thing would be to write to the UHJ.

  56. Sen said

    I am still waiting for replies to various other letters on more important matters. But you are right, there might be a reason for the identification, and you or someone else could ask. Post the response if you get one, please.

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