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Bahai courts – a short guide

Posted by Sen on August 10, 2018

This posting will look at the institutions of Bahai courts, the House of Justice, the International Bahai Council and the International Tribunal as they are described primarily in the writings of Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. I will assume that readers know what the Universal House of Justice is, and how the National Houses of Justice, known as National Spiritual Assemblies, are elected and function.

I have been moved to research this area by suggestions – quite possibly inspired by the anti-Bahai research institute in Qom – that the House of Justice is deficient without a Bahai court, that the dissolution of the International Bahai Council (IBC) was unwarranted, or that a permanent role in parallel with the Universal House of Justice was envisioned for the IBC, with Mason Remey at its head. In the last of these narratives, Remey is being transformed from second Guardian to First Justice. This is an imaginative effort, but lacks foundations in the Writings and in history, and is not what Remey claimed anyway. The broad lines of this part of our institutional history, from the mid-1940’s to the early 1960’s, are worth keeping fresh to thwart further imaginative reconstructions.

Courts of personal status

In 1944, in a list of challenges for the future, Shoghi Effendi wrote in God Passes By (411):

The codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas … and the systematic promulgation of its laws and ordinances, are as yet unbegun. The preliminary measures for the institution of Baha’i courts, invested with the legal right to apply and execute those laws and ordinances, still remain to be undertaken.

Similarly, in his Tawqiaat to the Bahais of the East, page 360, dated Ridvan 105/1948 he says that “the court of Bahai religious law with full powers will be established on unassailable foundations” (  محكمه شرعيه بهائيه بكمال عظمت و متانت تشكيل گردد).

In a cable dated October 8, 1952, announcing the opening of the Holy Year and setting out the goals of the 10-year spiritual crusade, Shoghi Effendi includes among those goals:

The establishment of a Baha’i Court in the Holy Land, preliminary to the emergence of the Universal House of Justice…. Codification of the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas…. Establishment of six national Baha’i Courts in the chief cities of the Islamic East — Tihran, Cairo, Baghdad, New Delhi, Karachi, Kabul.
(Messages to the Baha’i World – 1950-1957, 42.

The Persian parallel to this, in Tawqiaat vol 5, page 8 reads:
“ تشكيل محكمه بهائي در ارض اقدس كه مقدمه تاسيس ديوان عدلاعظم خواهد بود ” and “ تاسيس شش محكمه ملي بهائي ”.
Similarly on page 97 of that volume, it is again called a preliminary (مقدمه) to the election and foundation of the Universal House of Justice, to be accompanied (p. 98) by six national Bahai courts)

In a letter dated May 4, 1953, he lists among the goals:

… the transformation of the International Baha’i Council into an international Baha’i court; the codification of the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas; the establishment of six national Baha’i Courts in the chief cities of the Islamic East…
(Messages to the Baha’i World – 1950-1957, 151)


The situation in the five Islamic countries was that the civic courts did not decide matters such marriage, divorce and inheritance: Islamic religious courts had jurisdiction, to various extents, over these matters, except that a Christian court would rule on a matter affecting Christians, a Jewish court could rule for Jews. This meant that Islamic divines without much knowledge of Bahai religion and, in most cases, without any sympathy for the Bahais, would decide matters of family law involving Bahais. For most of these judges, the mere fact of being a Bahai would mean the dissolution of the marriage, regardless of what the couple wanted. So Bahai courts, recognized by the government as eligible to rule on family law matters between Bahais, or at least approve and authenticate what the partners themselves had decided, would be a step forward for the Bahai communities in these countries. India (New Delhi) is not an Islamic country, but the legal situation was analogous. The British had established separate laws and courts for Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Parity with the other communities required a similar recognition for the Bahais.

There are passages in English in which Shoghi Effendi makes it clear that the Bahai courts are not new institutions; they are the National Spiritual Assemblies elected by the enrolled Bahais, but endowed by their respective governments with the authority to administer certain laws:

… a formal request for recognition by the highest civil authorities in Egypt of the Egyptian National Spiritual Assembly as a recognized and independent Baha’i court, free and able to execute and apply in all matters of personal status such laws and ordinances as have been promulgated by Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-aqdas. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 11)

…Baha’i elective assemblies, now assuming the duties and functions of religious courts… (God Passes By 370)

In one of his Persian letters, he describes the recognition of Bahai marriage certificates in three states of the United States as a step toward the establishment of Bahai courts of religious law. These states did not have National Spiritual Assemblies. Nor, for that matter, did Afghanistan, yet the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran was tasked with establishing a National Bahai Court in Kabul, presumably based on the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Kabul, first elected in 1948. Pakistan did not have its own National Spiritual Assembly until 1957, yet the 1952 goals included a Bahai court to be formed in Karachi, presumably under the jurisdiction of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of India and Burma. So in addition to gaining recognition for Assemblies as Courts, it would appear that courts or committees under the supervision of an Assembly were envisioned.

The recognition of Baha’i courts in either form depended on the good will of the governments of these countries, and it would appear that Shoghi Effendi came to doubt that it would be possible. The Hands of the Cause in the Holy Land wrote, in 1962, that they had:

… just completed a detailed review of the few remaining unfinished goals … aside from those which our Beloved himself felt were doubtful of accomplishment, such as establishment of the Baha’i courts in Islamic countries … (Ministry of the Custodians 364 )

As for the creation of a Bahai court in Israel, we have seen above that Shoghi Effendi envisioned “the transformation of the International Baha’i Council [IBC] into an international Baha’i court,” and that this would be a “preliminary to the emergence of the Universal House of Justice.” Here too, the court is not a separate institution, but rather a status that would be accorded to the IBC. The law of personal status in Israel was in flux: when the state was established the previous Ottoman system under which the courts of each religious community would handle personal status issues was retained, with small modifications (Law and administration Ordinance, 1948; Marriage age law 1950). However there was no Bahai community, in the usual sense, in Israel, since Shoghi Effendi had dismantled it as the state of the Israel was being formed, by moving Bahais with resident status out of the country and replacing them with staff on short-term contracts. So far as these staff had any need of a court, it would be the civil courts of their home countries that would have jurisdiction. What then would be the purpose of having the IBC recognized as a Bahai Court in Israel? In my opinion it could only be to serve as a court of appeal from the national Bahai courts, not I think because a great number of appeals were envisioned, but because the IBC should not have a status less than that of the National Spiritual Assemblies who were to have recognition as Courts, and because the national Bahai courts should not be without a feature – a court of appeal – that the Muslim, Jewish and Christian courts in Islamic lands had.

But it was not to be: the Hands of the Cause wrote collectively, in 1959:

We wish to assure the believers that every effort will be made to establish a Baha’i Court in the Holy Land prior to the date set for this election [of the Universal House of Justice, in 1963]. We should however bear in mind that the Guardian himself clearly indicated this goal, due to the strong trend towards the secularization of Religious Courts in this part of the world, might not be achieved.
(Ministry of the Custodians 168)

In Israel there was exceedingly little chance that any matter that could fall in the jurisdiction of a Bahai family court could arise, except for burials. However independence from Islamic burial rites had already been achieved in that respect, in the time of Shoghi Effendi:

In the Holy Land, where a Baha’i cemetery had been established during ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s ministry, the historic decision to bury the Baha’i dead facing the Qiblih in ‘Akka was taken — a measure whose significance was heightened by the resolution to cease having recourse, as had been previously the case, to any Muhammadan court in all matters affecting marriage and divorce, … This was soon after followed by the presentation of a formal petition … dated May 4, 1929, to the Palestine authorities, requesting them that, pending the adoption of a uniform civil law of personal status applicable to all residents of the country irrespective of their religious beliefs, the community be officially recognized by them and be granted “full powers to administer its own affairs now enjoyed by other religious communities in Palestine.” The acceptance of this petition …
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 368)

The Bahai Court in Israel, in the form of recognition of the IBC, would be an updating, under Israeli rule, of what had already been achieved under the British Mandate as regards emancipating the Bahais from the Islamic courts and laws.

From the above we can see that the “Bahai courts” were an ad hoc solution to the problems facing Bahais in Islamic countries and, in a different form, the situation under the Mandate and in the young state of Israel where there was no civil law governing family matters. They are not a necessary part of the structure of a Bahai community, but rather one of those additional institutions that can be added and abolished as the need arises.

There is one counter-example to be noted: in one of his earlier Persian letters, from January 3, 1926, Shoghi Effendi refers to his hopes for the Bahai World Centre, “after the foundation of the Universal House of Justice and the formation of the first court of Bahai religious law.” (تاسيس بيت عدل اعظم و تشكيل اولين محكمه شرعيه بهائيان عالم )

This differs from his later formulations, which name in order the appointed Bahai International Council (discussed below), and its successive transformations into a Bahai court and the Universal House of Justice. Either Shoghi Effendi’s ideas, or his way of expressing them, developed.

The House of Justice

The House of Justice is not a court in the usual sense of the term: its purview is limited to matters within the Bahai community, and it can both make new rules (legislate), as in the rules regarding exemptions from obtaining parental consent for marriage (2010); rule on particular cases or delegate this power to the National Spiritual Assemblies (judicial function); and take whatever steps it thinks necessary to propagate and implement the Bahai teachings (executive function). In the Bahai administrative order, the Houses of Justice have legislative, executive and judicial roles, but only as regards the internal life of the Bahai communities around the world. The term “House of Justice” might be prone to cause confusion with the civil courts and the international tribunal, so Abdu’l-Baha ordered that the name should be changed to Spiritual Assembly:

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)

The operation of Bahai religious laws, and the Bahai institutions as a whole, is subordinate to the civil laws of nations, as Shoghi Effendi writes:

… in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles, enunciated by Baha’u’llah, they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments. 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 65-66)

The religious judicial officer

The House of Justice (Spiritual Assemblies) may delegate its judicial roles to some extent. In the Questions and Answers appended to Kitab-e Aqdas, Baha’u’llah refers to a religious judicial officer who registers the beginning of the “year of patience” preceding a divorce. He specifies that this officer is “appointed by the Trustees of the [local] House of Justice.” (Question 98) In Iran, two committees of the National Spiritual Assembly had responsibility for family matters, and for legal matters between Bahais, respectively. This appears again to be the delegation of judicial powers that rest inherently with the National Spiritual Assembly: they do not suggest the existence of a separate judicial arm of the Bahai Administration.

The International Bahai Council

In his English and Persian cables and letters, quoted above, Shoghi Effendi had characterised his appointment of the International Council as the “forerunner of supreme administrative institution” and a “preliminary measure … destined to culminate in emergence of Universal House of Justice.” (Messages to the Baha’i World – 1950-1957, pp. 7, 20, see also 19).

The first Council’s members were appointed by Shoghi Effendi in March 1951. It consisted of five Hands of the Cause and three others, and included women. Its initial role was outlined by Shoghi Effendi in a telegram:

… to forge link with authorities of newly emerged State … to assist [Shoghi Effendi] to discharge responsibilities involved in erection of mighty superstructure of the Bab’s Holy Shrine [and] … to conduct negotiations related to matters of personal status with civil authorities… (Messages to the Baha’i World – 1950-1957, p. 7)

and in a variant form:

… to assist in the erection of the superstructure of the Bab’s Sepulcher, cement ties uniting the budding World administrative Center with the recently established state, and pave the way for the formation of the Baha’í Court, essential prelude to the institution of the Universal House of Justice.” (Messages to the Baha’i World – 1950-1957, p. 12)

Evidently, the formation of the Bahai court is a parallel, if not a direct synonym, for negotiating with civil authorities on matters of personal status. Negotiation with civil authorities regarding personal status questions is one of the functions of a National Spiritual Assembly, underlining again that the Bahai court, and the International Bahai Council, are not a separate arm of the Bahai administrative structure, but rather vehicles for one of the functions that the community needs, and the elected Bahai institutions must shoulder.

Shoghi Effendi died without a successor as Guardian in November, 1957. The leadership of the Bahai community then fell to the ‘Custodians’ – nine Hands of the Cause elected by the Hands of the Cause around the world. They are also known as the Chief Stewards.

In their conclave message of November 4, 1959, the Hands of the Cause collectively wrote “We have … formulated the following plan of action which will enable the Baha’i world to establish the Universal House of Justice in 1963 …” (Ministry of the Custodians, 167; Bahai News issue 346).

That plan naturally involved the election of numerous National Spiritual Assemblies and many other activities, which are outlined. Then this longish letter turns to the International Council:

Not the Bahai Council – but the year is right

We are also happy to announce … the election of the International Baha’i Council during Ridvan 1961. The embryonic institution established and so highly extolled by the beloved Guardian will thus enter its final stage preceding the election of the Universal House of Justice. The members of all the National and Regional Spiritual Assemblies of the Baha’i world, duly constituted in Ridvan 1960, will take part in a postal ballot to elect nine members to the International Council. This International Baha’i Council is to work under the direction and supervision of the Hands of the Cause residing in the Holy Land, serve a two year term of office, and cease to exist upon the occasion of the election of the Universal House of Justice. …

Two of the functions originally allotted to the Council by the beloved Guardian, namely, to forge links with authorities of the State in which the World Centre is situated, and to conduct negotiations related to matters of personal status with civil authorities, will still be discharged, and to them are added ….

The planned dissolution of the IBC following the first election of the Universal House of Justice was logical and foreseen, given the terms Shoghi Effendi had used. The incoming Universal House of Justice could have reversed the dissolution that had been announced, but not implemented, by the Custodians, so their silent (so far as I know) acceptance of the dissolution can be counted among their first legislative acts.

The Supreme Tribunal

The Supreme Tribunal is something quite different to the Bahai courts, or the Universal House of Justice. It is described in the greatest detail in Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet to the Hague, and is also known as the Universal or International “Court of arbitration,” the “world court,” “arbitral court of justice” and similar terms. It is a tribunal to be established by the governments of the world, with jurisdiction over all disputes between governments. Its precursor was the “League of Nations” (See God Passes By (1987) 305). It is the judicial arm of the commonwealth of nations, which must also have a legislature and executive to form the trias politica of the super-state.

As regards the formation of this judicial organ of the super-state, Abdu’l-Baha writes (in the “Tablet to the Hague”):

For example, the question of universal peace, about which Baha’u’llah says that the Supreme Tribunal (محکمه کبری ) must be established: although the League of Nations has been brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing universal peace. But the Supreme Tribunal which Baha’u’llah has described will fulfil this sacred task with the utmost might and power. and His plan is this: that the national assemblies of each country and nation — that is to say parliaments — should elect two or three persons who are the choicest men of that nation, and are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity in this day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by the national assembly, that is, the parliament, must be confirmed by the upper house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so these persons may be the elected ones of all the nation and the government. From among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected, and all mankind will thus have a share therein, for every one of these delegates is fully representative of his nation. 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.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 305)

The term for Supreme Tribunal in this tablet is mahkame kabri (محکمه کبری ), literally, the Great Court.

There is no mention that I know of (except in Ruth Moffet’s pilgrim’s notes, which are unreliable) of any role for Bahais in establishing or later maintaining the Supreme Tribunal, although Bahais like other citizens may vote for the Parliaments who in turn elect the delegates who elect the justices of the Supreme Tribunal from among their own number – as outlined in the Tablet to the Hague.

The term used by Abdu’l-Baha in his Will and Testament is mahkame umumi (محکمة عمومی ), literally, the general or universal court:

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.
(Will and Testament 13)

It is also called the “universal tribunal of governments” and the “world tribunal” :

when the laws of the Most Holy Book are enacted, arguments and disputes will, with perfect justice, be settled before a universal tribunal (محکمه عموميّه ) of governments and peoples, and any difficulties which may arise will be resolved.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions 2014 Translation)

The Persian term here is literally “the Court of Universality.”

Shoghi Effendi also calls it a “world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations” (God Passes By 281) and a “supreme tribunal whose judgment will have a binding effect even in such cases where the parties concerned did not voluntarily agree to submit their case to its consideration” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 40). He foresees:

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 [i.e., the commonwealth of nations]
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah 203)

Some confusions

In the 1908 London edition of Some Answered Questions (p. 74), where Abdu’l-Baha refers to “a general tribunal of the nations and kingdoms,” a footnote incorrectly explained this tribunal as being the Universal House of Justice:

Baitu’l-`Adl, i.e. the House of Justice, is an institution designed by Baha’u’llah for the administration of the future city. The General House of Justice will determine the laws of the nation, and the International House of Justice will act as a tribunal of arbitration.

This translates a footnote that appeared in the French editions (page 70) at least until 1954. It makes the local Bahai House of Justice the administrative arm of local government; the national House of justice is the legislative arm of national government; and the international House of justice becomes the judicial arm of International Government. It is inconsistent, and cannot be correct, since Abdu’l-Baha explained in his Will and Testament that the House of Justice would be a body elected, in a three-stage election, by the believers, and his recipe for the election of the International Tribunal, in the Tablet to the Hague, is quite different. In his mind, these were different institutions with different purposes.

The confusion between the international tribunal and the Universal House of Justice continued in early western literature, and for longer in the French and German literature than in the English, because the English source texts have been more extensive and more frequently corrected. Discussions of the tribunal, House of Justice and related issues in other European languages have to be treated with caution, unless they have clearly gone back to original sources. The Persian Bahais seem to have understood, from Abdu’l-Baha’s time at least, that these are different institutions serving different purposes (see e.g., Zarqani, Mahmud’s Diary 373-4).


Merged in the House of Justice

Another letter 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 an institutional merger is not. Let’s suppose for the moment that ‘merging’ means that the tribunal would become redundant and the Universal House of Justice would take over its functions. Note that this would still leave the international civil legislature and executive operating, so the Universal House of Justice would be in a subordinate position, delivering judgments according to laws made by the legislature.

However it is difficult to imagine that merger in that sense can be meant here. 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. If it were to be accidentally lost, we would be obliged to re-establish it. (‘We’ here being ‘the peoples and nations of the earth’ since the task is not given to the Baha’i institutions – see GPB 305).

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. The same applies to the world legislature, and for that matter kings and kingship: the institutions of the Aqdas cannot be abolished.

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 I have covered in previous postings.

In brief, it is clear that a merger between the institutions in the sense defined above is neither possible nor desirable. On the other hand, 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?

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 need not – 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 government at the national level. But the secretary seems to be using Bahai state in some other sense, at the international level, 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.

All we can be sure of, is that this is not like the careful and coherent formulations we see in Shoghi Effendi’s own letters, and in those he considered important. In the circumstances, that is not surprising. This letter was written on a day when Shoghi Effendi was grappling with a crisis concerning the legal title to the shrine of the Bab, which had been precipitated by the claims of Covenant-breakers that the Bahai community had no legal existence in Palestine. He was organising an international campaign to persuade the British authorities to formally recognise the Bahai community. A letter about this, written on his behalf on the same day, is published in Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, page 99. A comparison of this, and other letters written on that day on important matters, with the ‘merge’ letter, reveals a wide difference in clarity and coherence. It is hardly credible that they were all produced by the same hand and process.

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One Response to “Bahai courts – a short guide”

  1. Hasan said

    Hi Sen,

    Since international disputes are very complex, specialized and diverse, I doubt the words “merge in” are accurate here.

    These are some of the most important international specialized bodies that resolves diverse international disputes:

    Name of the Court Seat Year Topics Pertains to
    International Court of Justice The Hague 1945–present General disputes United Nations
    International Criminal Court The Hague 2002–present Criminal prosecutions Rome Statute
    Appellate Body of the WTO Geneva 1995–present Trade disp. w. t. WTO World Trade Organization
    International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Hamburg 1994–present Maritime disputes United Nations
    International Court of Arbitration Paris 1923-present Int. commercial disp. International Chamber of Commerce
    Int. C. for Settl. of Investment Disputes Washington 1966-present Dispute b. int. investors World Bank
    Org. for Econ. Co-operation and Develop.  Paris 1961-present International Taxation United Nations

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